The moral relevance of human intelligence

Animal rights proponents often assert that “sentience” is the only morally relevant characteristic. In their view, we owe the same moral consideration to all sentient living beings, which must include the same basic rights to life and freedom.

The animal rights philosopher asks — Why does it matter if humans can compose a violin concerto or prove complex mathematical theorems?  After all, animals also have unique abilities that no human possess.  Birds can fly unassisted, dolphins use sonar, and mice have an exquisite sense of smell. In what way does human intelligence makes us different from other living beings in any morally relevant way?

As an example, one of these philosophers, Prof. Gary Francione, writes:

“[...] cognitive characteristics beyond sentience are morally irrelevant [...] being “smart” may matter for some purposes, such as whether we give someone a scholarship, but it is completely irrelevant to whether we use someone as a forced organ donor, as a non-consenting subject in a biomedical experiment.”

Sentience, according to the dictionary, is the “ability to feel and perceive things.”  However, to Prof. Francione it clearly means something more:

[...] sentience is a necessary as well as sufficient characteristic for a being to have interests (preferences, desires, or wants) in the first place. A rock is not sentient; it does not have any sort of mind that prefers, desires, or wants anything. A plant alive but has no sort of mind that prefers, desires, or wants anything.

Having preferences, desires, beliefs, interests and acting purposely to achieve them is to attribute a living being with mental states that go beyond the mere ability to feel and perceive things.  It goes beyond the accepted definition of “sentience”.  Yet, it seems obvious that not all species possess these attributes in equal degrees.

A human mother that is contemplating death due to cancer, will suffer beyond her physical pain when thinking that her children will grow up without a her, that she will never see them marry or have children of their own, that she will leave her spouse alone to take care of the family.

It is her cognitive abilities that allow her to suffer in ways other animals cannot.  Thus, if we agree that suffering is morally relevant, the type of suffering this mother experiences must count too.  And because such suffering is enabled to beings with the cognitive abilities that allow them to pose such questions, one must conclude that human cognitive abilities are morally relevant too.

Human cognitive abilities enable us to suffer in ways no other animals find possible.

There is a second important way in human intelligence becomes morally relevant.  It is the fact that our cognitive skills give rise to the scientific edifices of mathematics, physics and life sciences, which allows us, humans, to combat suffering in the world.

Humans have relied on our science to develop vaccines, screening tests and diagnostic devices, therapies and cures for many diseases.  These developments have saved billions lives, both human and non-human, and eliminated much suffering.

In contrast, while it is true that birds fly, dolphins use sonar and mice have a terrific sense of smell, none of these abilities allow them to battle suffering.

Rejecting our ability to confront suffering is to reject our human condition. Rejecting the moral responsibility that results from our cognitive abilities, as proposed by animal rights activists, would be wrong.

63 responses to “The moral relevance of human intelligence

  1. First, the fact that a cognitive characteristic may make possible an ability to suffer does not mean that the cognitive characteristic thereby acquires moral value. Assume we have two humans: Jack and Jill. Jill is a great lover of art. Jack does not care about art at all; in fact, he thinks art in all of its forms is one big waste of time. When Jill hears about the destruction of art, she becomes severely depressed. Jack laughs it off. There is a cognitive difference between Jack and Jill that allows Jill to suffer in a way that Jack cannot experience at all. Does Jill’s love of art thereby acquire *moral* value for purposes of saying Jill’s life matters more? No, of course not.
    Second, the fact that humans may be cognitively more sophisticated than nonhumans (although there are clearly some humans who are less cognitively sophisticated than many nonhumans), that does not mean that humans necessarily suffer more. Indeed, because of cognitive differences, animals may suffer more in many circumstances.
    For example, I may actually suffer less from a visit to the dentist at which I undergo a very painful procedure than does a mouse used in an experiment in which s/he suffers minor pain for a limited period. I know the dental procedure will end whereas the mouse does not know when his or her suffering may end and, as a result, may suffer great terror and distress that I cannot even begin to comprehend. I also know that the dental procedure is being done for my benefit and I understand what is going on and why I am being made to feel the pain. The mouse does not. So in many cases, the more sophisticated cognition of humans may lead to them suffering less than do animals.
    Third, you say that human intelligence matters morally because we can use that characteristic to reduce suffering. Putting aside that humans have also used their intelligence to cause tremendous suffering, the fact that some characteristic may be used to alleviate suffering does not mean that the characteristic thereby acquires moral value. It may impose a moral responsibility on the holder of the characteristic to use that characteristic to bring about some good but it does not mean that the holder of the characteristic is a more morally valuable person. Indeed, if someone has great talent but does not use it to bring about any good for anyone, many of us would regard such a person as behaving immorally.
    Fourth, while we are talking about the use of intelligence to alleviate suffering, and about the alleviation of suffering generally, and about your desire to alleviate suffering, then, although you and I disagree about vivisection, you should agree with me about veganism. We both know that animal products are not necessary for human health. Even the extremely conservative American Dietetic Association has stated that “vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.” We both know that animal agriculture is destroying the environment. We both know that the best justification we have for imposing the absolutely staggering level of suffering that we impose on the billions of animals we consume every year is that they taste good.
    So if you really care about suffering, you should go vegan. I would still disagree with you vehemently about vivisection, but I would at least regard plausible your expression of concern about suffering.
    Gary L. Francione
    Professor, Rutgers University

    • “Assume we have two humans: Jack and Jill. Jill is a great lover of art. Jack does not care about art at all; in fact, he thinks art in all of its forms is one big waste of time. When Jill hears about the destruction of art, she becomes severely depressed. Jack laughs it off. There is a cognitive difference between Jack and Jill that allows Jill to suffer in a way that Jack cannot experience at all. Does Jill’s love of art thereby acquire *moral* value for purposes of saying Jill’s life matters more? No, of course not.”

      I believe the proper question is — Would it be Ok for Jack to set a painting on fire knowing the suffering it would cause on Jill? Or, would Jack be morally justified in not even trying to put out a small fire at the museum knowing very well that it the art is destroyed it will cause great suffering to Jill? Why would be Jack be justified in ignoring Jill’s suffering?

      Yes, I agree with you on your second point, but certainly when we are discussing life-threatening situations, it is clear humans suffer vastly more than other living beings. How would you justify your inaction in trying to relieve such suffering? Was the use of animals to eradicate Polio from the surface of the Earth morally wrong?

      “It may impose a moral responsibility on the holder of the characteristic to use that characteristic to bring about some good but it does not mean that the holder of the characteristic is a more morally valuable person.”

      Indeed, that’s exactly my point — our cognitive abilities set up a scenario were we (humans) are faced with a moral dilemma no other species faces. Animal rights proponents reject the existence of such moral dilemma by asserting the notion of rights. Clearly if all sentient beings have basic rights to life and freedom then these rights ought to be respected and our moral dilemma simply disappears. In adopting this view you are failing to assume your moral responsibility.

      Finally, I do not oppose your vegan campaign — I think this is a good way to reduce suffering too. Unfortunately, given your vocal opposition to animal research and the use of vaccinations, I am afraid your net contribution may in be negative. I will be happy to discuss the ethical issues about animal food once we settle the issue about animal experimentation. If you grant me that medical research using animals is justified, then we can discuss other uses where making the case may be more difficult.

  2. You say: “I believe the proper question is — Would it be Ok for Jack to set a painting on fire knowing the suffering it would cause on Jill?”

    My reply: No, the question is whether we can “sacrifice” Jack for the sake of Jill because, on your view, she has a greater moral value that allows her to suffer in a way that Jack cannot. And my answer is “no.”

    • A characteristic is morally relevant if you must take it into consideration while deliberating your future actions. I hope you agree Jack should to consider Jill’s suffering before deciding to burn a painting. Thus, Jill’s suffering is morally relevant.

      When a human mother and a female mouse are confronting death due to cancer the same things are not at stake. The human suffers in ways the mouse does not precisely because of her cognitive ability to understand the possibilities that death will foreclose on her and her family.

      Thus, it is morally wrong to insist in flipping a coin if we have to decide who to save:

      http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/03/11/the-human-or-the-mouse-would-you-flip-a-coin/

      To acknowledge this simple fact does not reduce the mouse to an object having no interests of his own. By no means it implies that the mouse is not worth of moral consideration and that we can use it in any way we want. You keep suggesting that there are only two possibilities here — either animals have the same basic rights as humans or that they are beings not worth of our moral consideration. You are simply trying to deny the moral dilemma posed by animal research and the fact that we can improve the future lives of human and non-human animals alike. No, there is simply no justification for inaction:

      http://speakingofresearch.com/2012/03/09/the-morality-of-inaction-reframing-the-debate/

      • Following your logic we can thus determine that certain human beings have less value than others depending on their IQ and a future governed by your logic may be very close to the Nazi regime where certain humans are seen as lesser.
        You are reasoning that it is ethically just to sacrifice a less intelligent sentient being for the benefit of other more intelligent beings.
        I may use your logic to argue that, after animal testing is done, we should add another level of testing where mentally handicapped humans are used to experiment on to prevent anything unfortunate from happening to more valuable (intelligent) human beings.
        I would also like to re-iterate what was already said – that humans do not use their superior intellect to relieve suffering but in many cases to cause suffering. Of all animals on this planet we are the cause of the most deaths to other sentient beings and humans also cause the death of other humans more than any other animal. We cause extinction, destroy the ecosystem and cause pollution. Some humans even torture other human and non-human animals for fun. On average I would say more harm than good is done by the human race and thus, following your logic, the value of a human life could be considered below that of a mouse .
        You also seem to think that animals do not suffer mental anguish when they are taken away from their children and locked up in a cage? When a chimp mother is killed in front of her children or vice versa?
        It is generally accepted that adult pigs have intelligence levels similar to that of 3 year old human children – and yet it is okay to keep them locked up in cages and slaughter them by the millions for humans to eat while they can be healthier if they’d rather follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
        Would you subject a three year old to the same treatment as pigs? Chimpanzees are also very intelligent beings with a genetic make-up very close to humans and for exactly that reason they are often used in lab testing.

        I would agree that lab testing of certain medicines and procedures are essential to further the science of medicine. However, one could also argue that particularly because of the fact that humans have the ability to choose it makes more sense to test on willing human test subjects that are explained the risks involved and can agree to it and also and get financial compensation for their willingness to participate. Animals do not have this benefit and are kept against their will, locked in cages in solitude with no benefit or compensation for their sacrifice.
        If your argument is that animals have less social worth due to their lower level of intelligence and likeliness to contribute in relieving human suffering, perhaps you can rather support the forceful medical testing on convicted criminals that are mentally handicapped or have low IQ’s.

        The fact is that there are many alternatives to animal testing available today and if more effort was put into researching alternatives the need for “animal” testing would have been even lower, but animal testing is still used in many cases where it is not required at all because the life of an animal is not valued such as a human life. To me vivisection is one of the most shocking and unnecessary cruelties that are still being practiced today. It is like a scene from a horror movie – having your stomach cut open while alive with someone playing around in your guts. What is the benefit of doing this that cannot be obtained through other means? Millions of animals are still killed every year for dissection teaching in US schools while it has been proven that there are better ways of learning animal anatomy. Many students are also scared away from medical careers because they have moral problems with dissection and since it is done in schools they assume that they will be forced to continue this barbaric practice if they are to follow a career in medical science.
        Furthermore, there is a proven link between animal cruelty and psychopathic behavior and teaching with dissection in schools are clearly a form of animal cruelty and requires a level of detachment from students – it can be deduced that dissection in schools has a negative impact on the psychological health of students.
        For more details on why the negative effects of vivisection you can read the following: http://www.scribd.com/doc/87571915/1000-Doctors-and-Many-More-Against-Vivisection

        I do not support the notion of flipping a coin to decide whether a human or an animal should die an unnecessary death – rather that humans should value all life and find ways to prevent this situation altogether. Arguments like yours that try to diminish the value of animal life is the reason we have a total lack of respect for life (animal and human) in our society.

        Finally – not being willing to discuss the impact of animal foods until everybody agrees to your opinion on animal testing seems quite idiotic.

        • You might have missed my point that humans, being capable of living as moral agents among a community of equals, have basic rights that would prevent us form using them as a Nazi doctor would suggest.

          Yes, there is little doubt that humans can cause suffering too. And I don’t think they should — unless there is some very good reason for it. The liberation of concentrations camps was one good reason. The eradication of Polio was another. Fighting to find cures for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and HIV are other good reasons.

          If I fail to convince you of the ethical use of animals in medical research I think there is little doubt I will not be able to convince you of their use for any other purpose — such as food… so why not focus on this specific topic?

      • Clearly your following statement is clearly not relevant to the discussion:
        “A characteristic is morally relevant if you must take it into consideration while deliberating your future actions. I hope you agree Jack should to consider Jill’s suffering before deciding to burn a painting. Thus, Jill’s suffering is morally relevant.”

        The fact is that the “future action” that is relevant in this case has nothing to do with whether Jack burns Jill’s painting or not. From your previous arguments the future action in which their characteristics should or should not be taken into consideration of is when you must choose which of Jack or Jill to kill or inflict some other cruelty upon.

        Let’s say Jill has incurable disease X. Since Jill has an appreciation of Art that Jack does not, does that make it okay to take Jack away from his family, put him in a cage and infect Jack with disease X. Then try some experimental medicine on Jack in an attempt to find a cure for Jill’s disease. If you find that the drug doesn’t work, you decide to kill Jack (humanely) because the experiment did not work.

        You say that the reason animals should not have basic rights like humans do is because they have a lower level of intellect/cognitive abilities. Unless you would like to retract this reasoning and revert to a reasoning that humans are more important and warrant the annihilation of the basic rights of animals purely because they are human, you open the door for the idea that some humans should have lower levels of basic rights due to their lower level of intelligence or cognitive abilities.

        • “Let’s say Jill has incurable disease X. Since Jill has an appreciation of Art that Jack does not, does that make it okay to take Jack away from his family, put him in a cage and infect Jack with disease X”

          As I said before — it is not an issue of putting a moral value sticker on individuals, but how we must use our knowledge of mental states of others to guide our own ethical behavior.

          Jill’s appreciation of Art makes her vulnerable to suffering when art is harmed. Suffering matters. Jake should not set her painting on fire needlessly as he would be indirectly causing Jill to suffer. Jill’s particular appreciation for art says nothing about other situations.

          Similarly, Prof. Francione’s suffering in seeing animals harmed for any reason matters as well. I would make sure to order vegan food if we shared a meal together not to cause him undue harm.

          Of course, if everyone felt like him then we would not engage in animal research. But with <2% of the population being vegan, I assume most people do not feel the same way.

          And finally, humans suffer more when they see other human suffer than when they see a mouse suffer… and yes, such suffering matters too.

          As Bernard Williams wrote:

          The word “speciesism” has been used for an attitude some regard as our ultimate prejudice, that in favor of humanity. It is more revealingly called “humanism,” and its is not a prejudice. To see the world from a human point of view is not an absurd thing for human beings to do. It is sometimes said that such a view implies that we regard human beings as the most important or valuable creatures in the universe. This would be an absurd thing to do, but it is not implied. To suppose that it is, is to make the mistake of identifying the point of view of the universe and the human point of view. No one should make any claims about the importance of human beings to the universe: the point is about the importance of human beings to human beings.

      • You quote Bernard Williams:

        “The word “speciesism” has been used for an attitude some regard as our ultimate prejudice, that in favor of humanity. It is more revealingly called “humanism,” and its is not a prejudice. To see the world from a human point of view is not an absurd thing for human beings to do. It is sometimes said that such a view implies that we regard human beings as the most important or valuable creatures in the universe. This would be an absurd thing to do, but it is not implied. To suppose that it is, is to make the mistake of identifying the point of view of the universe and the human point of view. No one should make any claims about the importance of human beings to the universe: the point is about the importance of human beings to human beings.”

        Do you think that this supports helps you? It doesn’t. On the contrary. Moreover, one could say that every form of prejudice must be seen from a particular perspective. So racism may be thought of as seeing the world from the point of view of a white person. It is about the importance of white people to white people.

        But he very clearly says that we cannot draw any conclusions about moral value in anything but a relative way.

        This really doesn’t help you. But I might use it in the future. It certainly supports a great deal of what I say.

        • Here is what I think you are missing.

          The result of human evolution, us being highly social animals, is that our brains are wired to maximize the survival of our species/group. Our brains are wired in a way that we happen to suffer more when we see a human child dying of cancer than a mouse in an identical situation. There is a biological/evolutionary component to our suffering that puts our concerns for our fellow humans above those of other species. This does not mean we feel nothing for other animals, but just not the same. I know this may sound personal… but I honestly cannot help but wonder if you would still feel similarly if you had children of your own.

          • You say: “Here is what I think you are missing. The result of human evolution, us being highly social animals, is that our brains are wired to maximize the survival of our species/group.”

            You’re joking, right? I mean really. You are going to look at the world and the history of humans and tell me that we have evolved a moral concern four our species? You must be joking.

            In any event, what Williams is saying is no different from saying something analogous to: “sexism does not speak to the value of women; it only speaks of the value of patriarchy to patriarchs.” I am not sure why you think this sort of reasoning is useful to you.

            You say: “I know this may sound personal… but I honestly cannot help but wonder if you would still feel similarly if you had children of your own.”

            Putting aside that I know many people who oppose vivisection who have children, what is amazing to me is that vivisectors always attempt to discredit critics as people who can’t empathize. On so many levels, that’s breathtaking.

            It’s breathtaking because you are assuming that empathy requires having biological children. What an insulting position. It’s also breathtaking because you assume that empathy is only proper when it’s directed at one’s own species. Putting aside that the history of humankind is rather lacking in examples of general species-focused empathy, that begs the question in a profound way.

            The subtitle of one of my book, Introduction to Animal Rights” was “Your Child or the Dog?” The reason for the subtitle was that we would all favor our children over the children of others in a situation of compulsion and real emergency. And that does not provide a useful basis or context for formulating moral principles.

          • Suffering matters right? And suffering is in the brain, right?

            Yes, I think there is no doubt there is a biological component to our sense of morality. Or do you mean you can prove it is morally wrong to kill someone from the laws of physics?

            I never said you need children to develop empathy, but I know you need them to know how it feels when your child is harmed versus your dog. You have never had that experience, have you? The joke is that you wrote a book about it.

  3. Professor Francione, I gather, from your last comment, that you don’t share the opinion of many animal rights activists, who say “Instead of experimenting on animals, let’s experiment on humans convicted for hideous crimes such as paedophilia.” And I appreciate this.
    But I think the point of the article, if I understood it correctly, is that humans may not have developed a specific moral value, such as art appreciation, but they are anyway capable of developing it. usually even criminals give moral justifications to their actions, even if these justifictions are false and sometimes ridicolous.. Man is the only species, as far as we know, that is capable of developing moral values ant to evauate his7her actions from a moral point of view. And this sets us apart from all other animals.
    BTW, after reading your comment, I’ll give a serious tought to total veganism.
    P:S: Sorry if my English is not perfect, I’m not a native speaker.

    • Indeed. Humans are the only ones that can participate in a community of equals with mutually agreed rules of behavior — which we encapsulate in the notion of basic rights. And humans alone are the ones that ask the question of how is that we should treat others — including other species. To me asking if a mouse has basic rights is meaningless — they cannot be members of our moral community and reciprocate. The only meaningful question is how we, humans, should treat mice.

      In contrast Francione and others contend that sentience (although they appear confused as what exactly they mean by the term) is sufficient to endow a living being with the same basic rights to freedom and life as any other human being. Nothing else has any moral relevance to them.

      • First of all, humans are NOT the only animals that live in communities of equals with mutually agreed rules of behavior – this is the case for almost all pack animals. The rules may not be written down on a piece of paper but you can ask any animal behavior specialist and they will be able to tell you the rules of behavior. Also – I do not know of many “communities of equals” in humanity, there is ALWAYS some sort of hierarchy both in human and animal communities.

        Nobody is arguing whether or not humans should be the ones making the decision about whether other species should have basic rights. Animals do not have a voice – that is the reason that we (humans that have realized that animals should have basic rights) are speaking up for animals. Your statement also seems to indicate that a human that cannot communicate (in a coma or totally paralyzed condition) is not a “member of our moral community”. But your conclusion is accurate – it is humans that must decide how humans should treat mice…. I don’t see anybody arguing that point.

        I also doubt that Francione feels that nothing else has any moral relevance – however he will agree that we should give a similar level of basic rights to animals as we do to humans.
        On the other hand it seems that the opposite is your point of view, what you are arguing is that the human species has so much more value than any other species that no other species have any rights that may be in conflict with that of a human’s.
        It is never a coin flip decision, it is a moral decision. That is why I made my moral decision to do my best not to contribute to the suffering of any animal be it human or non-human.
        However, if I am faced with a difficult situation, I would not blindly choose the outcome that is better for the human. If a convicted murderer that has raped and killed children escapes from prison and I am put in a situation where I must decide whether I will save an innocent animal’s life or this man’s life – I would choose the animal. For instance – if this criminal attack’s me, and my loyal dog is fighting him off in an attempt to save my life and the criminal pulls a knife and is about to stab my dog – I would not hesitate to shoot the human to save my dogs life. This is a relatively extreme example (but I would not be surprised if people have been put in such a situation). However – from your arguments the animal does not have rights and my actions would be morally wrong.

        • I do not think the interests of all humans trump those of all animals. Not at all. I never said that. Nor do I believe those that have failed to play by the rules of society deserve the same rights as those that do. As you know, we send rapers and killers to prison and I believe this to be a morally justifiable decision.

      • Now you are saying that cognitive ability is not the deciding factor anymore but your inherent goodness.
        In my example clearly the rapist/murderer would be cognitively superior to the dog, but it seems you agree that he has a lower moral worth due to his past actions even though he is cognitively/intellectually superior.
        In that sense – I can argue that a sheep is inherently more “good” than a human, since I have never heard of a cruel, deceitful or malicious sheep however many humans commit crimes, lie, cheat and try to deceive, so to make a generalized speciest decision I would say sheep have more inherent “good” than humans based on your arguments.
        This whole argument is fundamentally wrong, since all animals should be given certain basic rights irrespective of their level of intelligence. If an animal can feel pain and suffer this suffering should not be forced upon an innocent animal without his consent.
        You keep propagating the concept that humans are the only social animals that live in a community together – this even the most ignorant person knows is not true since many different species of animals are social creatures that live in packs and communities and feel sadness and pain when their “family” is harmed or taken away from them. Many species even mate for life – which humans are having difficulty with!

        The fact that humans are capable of complex though and making moral decisions should place a heavier burden on them NOT to exploit defenseless animals, not give them a reason to do so.

        I would argue that instead of using healthy, defenseless, innocent animals and infect them with disease to experiment and test on them it would be morally more justifiable to test these experimental drugs directly on already sick humans for whom these tests may hold a direct benefit. These humans would not be infected with the disease since they would already have it. They would not have to be kept in cages. They would be able to consent to the experimental treatment. They could be compensated for trying the experimental drug. The drug companies will make use of other means to make as sure as possible that the drug will not cause unnecessary harm and since the human’s life would be seen as having a higher “worth” than that of an animal (unfortunately) the testing would be stopped in case negative symptoms appear and if the test is not successful the human will not be “put down” like their animal test subject counterparts.

        The fact is that if human society would stop considering animals as lesser beings that are there for their amusement and pleasure and eating and testing and prodding, then perhaps even animal testing would not be so horrendous as it is today.

        If you would like to educate yourself on what happens during animal testing under the guise of “furthering medicine and saving lives” I can give you some links. But I am sure you will not read and watch them because, like most humans in today’s society, you probably do not want to know what you are trying to sugar-coat.

        The fact that the maximum sentence for animal cruelty is 90 days in prison – meaning you can inflict any amount of cruelty and torture on an animal and you cannot be sentenced more than 90 days. And if you do it to farm animals like pigs with the same intellect as a 3 year old it becomes almost impossible to prosecute because of loop holes in the law specially created so that farm animals have no rights. The fact that recently laws have been passed that make it illegal to record and expose cruelty going on on farms. All of these things are due to the same thinking that animals should not have basic rights because they are lesser beings than humans.

        You don’t even want to discuss eating the flesh of animals until “you have convinced me of the ethical use of animals in medicine” – clearly this whole debate is pointless because you are not considering the fact that you might be wrong and that we are the ones that must first convince you of the fact that the way animals are being used for medicine in our society is not ethical at all.

        The group of monkeys in the following picture is clearly a community and are suffering fear and panic because of the situation they are in – the picture makes me think of pictures of jewish death camps during the holocaust. http://www.all-creatures.org/anex/monkey-group-01.html
        Perhaps freeing these innocent sentient beings from a life of imprisonment and torture would be a cause that warrant “humans causing suffering”?

        You cannot tell me that the monkeys in the following pictures don’t have the cognitive ability to feel horror, pain and distress due to the inhumane abuse that they face in medical experiments (often frivolous ideas of mad scientists).
        http://www.all-creatures.org/anex/monkey-malish-04.html
        http://www.all-creatures.org/anex/monkey-chair-10.html
        http://www.all-creatures.org/anex/monkey-exp-25.html

        And these are not even the worst images or footage I have seen – only the first ones I could find in 5 minutes searching the internet.

        • “In my example clearly the rapist/murderer would be cognitively superior to the dog, but it seems you agree that he has a lower moral worth due to his past actions even though he is cognitively/intellectually superior.”

          Again, your entire premise here is not based on my position. I am not ordering living individuals according to a measure of “moral worth”. I am simply stating how our own behavior must be guided by our understanding of the mental states of other living beings and the suffering that we may impose on them and those related to them.

          “…clearly this whole debate is pointless because you are not considering the fact that you might be wrong and that we are the ones that must first convince you of the fact that the way animals are being used for medicine in our society is not ethical at all.”

          Perhaps you are not aware that myself, my family and my colleagues have experienced attacks that included firebombing of our homes, cars, and terrifying children at night. So yes, I would like to understand the reason for such behavior above all else. Or perhaps you can explain to me why is that they are not firebombing my burger-eating neighbor instead?

      • Perhaps extremists have resorted to scare tactics due to the fact that clearly you are not somebody that consider other peoples opinions as worthwhile. You have shown in almost all your posts that you prefer turning arguments away from the point being made in political fashion whenever it becomes difficult to justify your point of view.
        Perhaps it is also because you are an active advocate of animal testing.
        I presume you don’t eat meat and for that reason you think your neighbor should rather be targeted?

        To a certain extent I must agree with you though – I can condone animal testing (strictly for medical research and complying to all regulations) more than factory farming where animals are being killed for no reason other than people liking to eat them. So, if your neighbor was the owner of a large factory farm and a strong factory farm proponent you would be justified in deflecting to him.

        My opinion is that animals are still being used in medicine in cases where it is not required – such as dissection in schools as a simple example. Also that not enough effort is being made to move away from animal testing to new methods as well as researching new methods – because “why fix something that ain’t broken”? Until animals are not seen as convenient test subjects this is not going to change. I see that “the three R’s” is mentioned on the site – my opinion is that not enough emphasis is placed on this. Still new horror stories about animal abuse in medical facilities are uncovered.

        • “Perhaps extremists have resorted to scare tactics due to the fact that clearly you are not somebody that consider other peoples opinions as worthwhile.”

          This is not worth responding to. I guess we reached the end of this conversation.

          • Adriaan:

            You state: ” So, if your neighbor was the owner of a large factory farm and a strong factory farm proponent you would be justified in deflecting to him.”

            But why does it have to be the owner of a large factory farm? The average person eats about 35 animals a tear. If the person eats only chicken and fish, and does not eat larger animals, the person eats many more animals.

            To say that violence can be justified against “animal exploiters” creates a rather serious conceptual issue: in our society, just about everyone is an “animal exploiter.” So the position becomes totally arbitrary and, I would suggest, incoherent.

            There are other issues I could raise but I am just responding to your comment on factory farms. That’s not the analogy.

      • I am sorry for not making myself clear. I did not express my personal beliefs. I tried to explain why extremist may be targeting him instead of his neighbor that eats meat.
        Also, I do not condone acts of violence against anybody, whether they eat meat or test on animals.
        I also take your point in that an average meat eater contributes to the death and suffering of an incredible amount of sentient beings and concede that the average meat eater would carry a heavier moral burden than a researcher that test on a relatively smaller amount of animals for some sort of higher good.
        But again – purely in an attempt to explain why extremists would target a proponent of animal research rather than his burger eating neighbor, perhaps it is because the proponent of animal research is actively trying to justify the suffering of animals while his burger eating neighbor may not be attempting to publicly justify his meat eating. Also, the proponent of animal research is seen as a public figure that can be made an example. For this same reason I suspect activists would rather target the source of the exploitation of farm animals – the farmer – instead of the consumers. Similar to law enforcement agencies targeting drug cartels (or at least should) rather than drug end users.
        Again, I fully agree that violence against any other sentient beings should not be condoned.

        • But again – purely in an attempt to explain why extremists would target a proponent of animal research rather than his burger eating neighbor, perhaps it is because the proponent of animal research is actively trying to justify the suffering of animals while his burger eating neighbor may not be attempting to publicly justify his meat eating.

          So it is the fact that I am engaging in public debate on a topic I think is of importance to society (instead of remaining quiet) that explains the violence? Nice…

      • That is what I suspect. Other reasons that extremist animal activists give are that discussions (such as the one we are having) does not have any effect and the only way they have been able to create change has been by means of scare tactics.
        This is a topic that could lead to many additional long discussions where activists would argue that scare tactics and attempts at causing economic damage to proponents of animal exploitation is justified because it saves the lives of sentient beings without inflicting physical harm.
        I will not go into this topic as I don’t support it and if you want you can ask these questions to the extremists on some of their many websites.

  4. Professor Ringach:

    You think that cognitive characteristics, particular intelligence and reflective humanlike self-awareness, are morally relevant. You offer two reasons.

    First, you think that because humans can suffer in ways that nonhumans can’t as a result of their cognitive capacities (and from your examples, you seem to think that humans suffer more), these cognitive characteristics are morally significant in that a holder of these characteristics has a greater moral value for purposes of being able to justify the infliction of suffering and death on a being without these characteristics.

    Second, you think that the ability to reason morally makes humans more valuable and that beings who can engage in reciprocal moral conduct can justify imposing suffering and death on those who cannot.

    I reject both components of your view.

    As I argued above, nonhumans may actually suffer more in many situations. But, in any event, the fact that humans have a characteristic that allows them to suffer in a way that other beings cannot suffer simply does not allow the us to say that the characteristic increases the moral value of the holder.

    The second point is saying that the fact that X can reason morally means that X matters more morally in terms of the ability to justify imposing suffering and death on Y, who does not have the ability to reason morally.

    Again, the fact that X has the ability to reason morally does not mean that X has greater moral value or that X can justify the exploitation of a vulnerable being. Moreover, unless you are going to engage in blatant speciesism, you would then have to say that if Y were a human without the ability to reason morally, X would be justified in using Y as well as or instead of an animal (other things being equal).

    I would anticipate your response would be that if Y is a human, then we just treat Y as if Y had the the ability to reason morally even if Y cannot do so. But that is just blatant speciesism. I must say that I have never seen that position defended in any way (as opposed to being asserted) except by Peter Carruthers and I believe that I demonstrated the flaws in his argument Introduction to Animal Rights at pp. 123-125.

    I sincerely believe that the only way that you can make any of this work theoretically is to build some religious notion in that because humans are made in the image of god, they count more. You can’t do it by claiming that characteristics that are thought (wrongly or rightly) to be uniquely human have greater moral value.

    You could, of course, take Singer’s (and Bentham’s) view that because nonhumans do not have humanlike self awareness, they do not, as an empirical matter, have an interest in continuing live so that if you kill them painlessly, you have not harmed them. That still leaves you with having to formulate a non-speciest theory to justify suffering but you would then ostensibly have an argument to justify use.

    But as I have argued, Singer begs the question and assumes that the only way to be self-aware is to have humanlike self-awareness. That is clearly wrong. Although I discuss that in Introduction, I focus on it much more in more recent work. It is one of the main things that I debate with Professor Garner in my 2010 book, The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation?

    • “You think that cognitive characteristics, particular intelligence and reflective humanlike self-awareness, are morally relevant.”

      You do too, as your own definition of sentience requires the individual to have a mental representation of interests, beliefs, and desires — which is a statement about cognitive abilities.

      We disagree in that you assert all living beings either possess or lack sentience, not allowing for degrees (which is ridiculous), and that sentience alone is sufficient to grant a living being the basic right to life and freedom.

      “First, you think that because humans can suffer in ways that nonhumans can’t as a result of their cognitive capacities (and from your examples, you seem to think that humans suffer more), these cognitive characteristics are morally significant in that a holder of these characteristics has a greater moral value for purposes of being able to justify the infliction of suffering and death on a being without these characteristics.”

      No, you misunderstood. I am not trying to place a moral value sticker on the forehead of each individual and declaring that he who has the larger value can kill the rest at will. I am simply asking what characteristics should guide our ethical behavior. Those are the characteristics I consider morally relevant. I think the ability for humans to suffer in ways no other animal can should count — if you really care about suffering.

      If a colleague takes you out for lunch, I presume he may decide to order a vegan plate as he knows that ordering the salmon may actually cause you suffering — even if he disagrees with your position on animal food.

      In contrast, during our debate at Rutgers you said you would oppose your HIV infected friend to be treated with medication derived from animal research. It seems to me such position shows complete disregard for human suffering.

      Disregarding moral relevant properties when they should be taken into account is a form of discrimination.

      “The second point is saying that the fact that X can reason morally means that X matters more morally in terms of the ability to justify imposing suffering and death on Y, who does not have the ability to reason morally.”

      You misunderstood again. The fact that we, humans, can play by a commonly agreed set of rules in community of equals is the foundation for the concept of basic rights. Thus, I find it meaningless to state a mouse has the same basic rights we grant to human beings.

      You view animals as having the same basic rights as humans based. The result is a theory that cannot discriminate between the moral behavior of Michael Vick or Jonas Salk and, on that ground alone, we must reject it.

      • “You view animals as having the same basic rights as humans based. The result is a theory that cannot discriminate between the moral behavior of Michael Vick or Jonas Salk and, on that ground alone, we must reject it.”

        Your statement that if humans and animals have equivalent values mean that one cannot discriminate between a dog fighter and somebody that discovered a polio vaccine due to animal testing is ridiculous. I am no philosophical professor but I can disprove it with a simple thought experiment:

        Lets say we live in this imaginary “crazy” world where animals have the rights of humans – in this world we can replace all reference to animals with humans. In this world Jonas Salk found a cure for polio by experimenting on humans. In this world Michael Vick forced humans to fight to the death while making money from betting profits. Clearly you can discriminate and say that the actions of Jonas Salk – even though it may not be ethical and morally correct – held higher moral ground than that of Michael Vick because at least his cruelty resulted in some benefit to humanity while Michael Vick only did what he did out of cruelty and greed.

        In reality the situation is harder to discriminate in the current speciest situation. Jonas Salk did do some trials on children at the “Polk State School for the retarded and feeble minded”. So that one could say that in the current state where human life is seen as so much more valuable than animal life, Jonas Salk did something immoral by testing on humans (even though it was after animal trials) and since Michael Vick only did dog fighting it is no big deal.

      • I do think you hide too much behind the polio research of 50 years ago. It’s morality and methodologies are not relevant anymore in our current society. Advances in science and medicine has improved to such an extent that many animal testing modalities can be replaced with non-animal based testing.
        Perhaps we can discuss something more current, for instance the research you are currently involved in and how your treatment of human volunteers and that of monkey test subjects that you used to use differ. Also the moral differences in using human volunteers vs animal test subjects.

        • Among other things, I am currently doing experiments on volunteer human epileptic patients. But as I said, the scientific ignorance and disrespect you have shown have already closed this conversation.

      • The fact that the conversation is touching to close to home you would prefer closing the conversation.
        Your disrespect for animal life is another reason you would prefer closing the conversation.

      • I never justified violence against those I disagree with and I never will. You asked for an explanation on why you are being targeted by extremists. I explained what I suspect could be the reason – not that I condone or wish such actions upon you. I am not an extremist and do not believe these people are acting in a morally just way by terrorizing people to force their points. I do not believe in any form of violence toward any animals – human or non-human.
        Just as I can attempt to explain why a serial killer kills: Perhaps it is because they were exposed to animal cruelty from an early age, performed dissections on animals in school, studied at a university where animals were tested on and in this way were desensitized to violence to other sentient beings and taught to disregard the screams and agony of other sentient beings. This does not mean I condone what the serial killer does.
        I realize this is a touchy point for you and perhaps that is why you jumped to your own conclusion without accurately reading what I wrote, putting words into my mouth and started accusing me of something I am not.

        One question: Do you consider yourself as a morally just person that do not condone “unjustified” suffering of animals – only the “unavoidable” suffering of animals for the purpose of saving many more human lives?

  5. Professor Porcelli:

    I think I addressed your primary point in my response to Professor Ringach. The fact that X can reason morally does not mean that X has greater moral value than Y, who cannot reason morally. And if you take the contrary position, you are committed to claiming that there is nothing per se morally wrong with inflicting suffering and death on Y if Y is a differently-abled human who cannot reason.

    Yes, you are correct to say that I am opposed to using prisoners in biomedical experiments.

    Your English is perfectly fine; don’t worry.

    And I do hope that you will consider seriously going vegan. Anyone who claims to agree that suffering matters morally should stop participating in the infliction of suffering and death that can only be justified by palate pleasure!

  6. I’m not a philosopher, but how can you be sure animals don’t suffer when their mates or offspring die? Elephants, many primates and birds do seem to have feelings in this way. Your arguments seem weak to me but thanks for exploring this difficult topic. As humans are obviously animals, I don’t see where you can draw a line of difference therefore I do not believe in killing animals for food or research – it seems as morally repugnant to me as cannibalism or murder.

  7. Professor Ringach:

    I maintain that any sentient being is subjectively aware and has interests (preferences, desires, wants). I agree that because animals do not use language, they probably have cognitive states that are very different from ours but I maintain that they have states that are functional equivalently to preference, desire, and want. I do not believe that our cognitive states, including, but not limited to, our ability to reciprocate morally, make us morally more valuable per se or justify our exclusively instrumental use of other sentient beings. Moreover, if your position is correct, you would necessarily be committed to using humans deficient in the “special” characteristic instead of, or as well as, non human animals. There’s no way around that.

    You say: “In contrast, during our debate at Rutgers you said you would oppose your HIV infected friend to be treated with medication derived from animal research. It seems to me such position shows complete disregard for human suffering.”

    I do not remember saying that. If I said, I misspoke as my views on this issue have been out there for a good long time. This is from the FAQ section of mt book, Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? (2000):

    Question 13: Isn’t taking advantage of medications or procedures developed through the use of animals inconsistent with taking an animal rights position?

    Answer: No, it is not. Those who support animal exploitation often argue that accepting the “benefits” of animal use is inconsistent with criticizing the use of animals.

    This position, of course, makes no sense. Most of us are opposed to racial discrimination, and yet we live in a society in which white middle-class people enjoy the benefits of past racial discrimination; that is, the majority enjoys a standard of living that it would not have had there been a nondiscriminatory, equitable distribution of resources, including educational and job opportunities. Many of us support measures, such as affirmative action, that are intended to correct past discrimination. But those who oppose racial discrimination are not obligated to leave the United States or to commit suicide because we cannot avoid the fact that white people are beneficiaries of past discrimination against people of color.

    Consider another example: assume that we find that the local water company employs child labor and we object to child labor. Are we obligated to die of dehydration because the water company has chosen to violate the rights of children? No, of course not. We would be obligated to support the abolition of this use of children, but we would not be obligated to die. Similarly, we should join together collectively and demand an end to animal exploitation, but we are not obligated to accept animal exploitation or forego any benefits that it may provide.

    We certainly could develop drugs and surgical procedures without the use of animals, and many would prefer we do so. Those who object to animal use for these purposes, however, have no control as individuals over government regulations or corporate policies concerning animals. To say that they cannot consistently criticize the actions of government or industry while they derive benefits from these actions, over which they have no control, is absurd as a matter of logic. And as a matter of political ideology, it is a most disturbing endorsement of unquestioned obeisance to the policies of the corporate state. Indeed, the notion that we must either embrace animal exploitation or reject anything that involves animal use is eerily like the reactionary slogan “love it or leave it,” uttered by the pseudo-patriots who criticized opponents of American involvement in the Vietnam War.

    Moreover, humans have so commodified animals that it is virtually impossible to avoid animal exploitation completely. Animal by-products are used in a wide variety of things, including the asphalt on roads and synthetic fabrics. But the impossibility of avoiding all contact with animal exploitation does not mean that we cannot avoid the most obvious and serious forms of exploitation. The individual who is not stranded in a lifeboat or on a mountaintop always has it within her power to avoid eating meat and dairy products, products that could not be produced without the use of animals, unlike drugs and medical procedures, which could be developed without animal testing.

    • “I maintain that any sentient being is subjectively aware and has interests (preferences, desires, wants).”

      This statement is your very own definition of sentience. This is nothing more than a tautology.

      “I do not believe that our cognitive states, including, but not limited to, our ability to reciprocate morally, make us morally more valuable per se…”

      Again — it is not an issue of putting a moral value on individuals, but how we must use our knowledge of mental states of others to guide our own ethical behavior. By your very own definition of sentience, the cognitive ability to represents beliefs, preferences, well-being and goals are morally relevant. But you still insist on flipping a coin between saving a suffering mother over a suffering mouse.

      “Isn’t taking advantage of medications or procedures developed through the use of animals inconsistent with taking an animal rights position?”

      Yes, it is entirely inconsistent and your justification makes no sense.

      You argue people should not eat animal food as it perpetuates the suffering of animals. Similarly, you must argue that people should not take the benefits of research which also, in your view, perpetuates the suffering of animals.

      See — you can’t have your animal rights and your medicine too.

      A more detailed response to such arguments can be found here:

      http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/11/17/opponents-of-animal-research-should-refuse-medical-treatment/

      “We certainly could develop drugs and surgical procedures without the use of animals”

      Such insinuation that stopping animal research would not result in severe slow down of progress is irresponsible and surprising coming from an academic who knows what the scientific consensus is on the topic. Have we already reached the point where you start to deny science, scientists motives, and conjure up conspiracy theories?

  8. I’m afraid his justification does make sense. Having a choice between eating meat or eating vegetarian is very different from being forced to use a medicine that was tested on animals because you have no alternative.
    The testing of the medicine has already been done. The animal whose flesh you eat results in actively supporting an industry that will kill more animals due to your choice.
    Additionally, you are not going to die or become ill because you avoid animal products in your diet – in reality you will probably be more healthy.
    While it is not ideal and one should try not to support medicine that was developed through animal testing (which is nearly impossible since animal testing is required by law) if you don’t have any other option it is acceptable to use the medicine already available to save a life.
    I would not say it is a happy decision that can be made without a second thought, but it is very different from buying cosmetics that were tested on animals or eating the flesh of an animal that was caged, tortured and killed just because you like the taste.

    Unfortunately I live in a world where it is impossible to avoid supporting products that exploit animals. Driving my car I support the road infrastructure that results in the deaths of thousands of animals being run over. Every action, even eating vegetables that resulted in farmers killing rodents or other “pests”, support to a certain extent practices that result in the exploitation of animals. However one can try to live a life that attempts to avoid contributing to this state of affairs in as much as is possible. This does not mean you must sit in a corner an die because of the current situation of the world. One must attempt to make a difference in the world and situation you find yourself in. Speaking out against the immoral behavior of our society does not require that we all commit suicide to prove our points.

    “Again — it is not an issue of putting a moral value on individuals, but how we must use our knowledge of mental states of others to guide our own ethical behavior. By your very own definition of sentience, the cognitive ability to represents beliefs, preferences, well-being and goals are morally relevant. But you still insist on flipping a coin between saving a suffering mother over a suffering mouse.”

    How is “use our knowledge of mental states of others to guide our own ethical behavior” not “putting a moral value on individuals”? Do you mean you do not make your ethical decisions based on individuals but rather entire species?

  9. The point I am making is that the end user has basically three choices:
    1.) Don’t be a “hypocrite” in your eyes, live in todays society and say to everybody that exploiting animals is fine as long as there is some benefit to humans.
    2.) Don’t be a “hypocrite” in your eyes, and die because you cannot eat anything or take life saving medicine because it is against your morals.
    3.) Be a “hypocrite” in your eyes, attempt to live your life in a way that cause as little animal suffering as possible. Using medicine developed using animals only where it is essential for your survival. Vocalize your dislike that more effort is not made to get rid of animal testing and that governments pass laws to require animal testing instead of laws to try and phase out animal testing.

    If you ask any animal activist whether he or she would be willing to pay more for medicine that was not researched on animals, they will all say yes. If there is an alternative medicine that can be chosen but will cost more – they will take the alternative. The current state of affairs are what they are – we must try to improve on it.
    Believing that a society where animals have rights is a better society, one where animals should not be abused and used for the benefits of humans. Trying to be a voice for those that cannot speak for themselves. That is not hypocritical.

  10. Professor Ringach:

    You state: “You might have noticed that Prof. Francione did not state if the eradication of Polio by means of animal research was morally justified.”

    I have a comment and a question.

    The discovery of the polio vaccine was delayed by animal research and it was research with human cell cultures that helped us to understand that the virus could be cultivated on nonneural tissue.

    But let’s get to the heart of the issue: Would you inflict suffering and death on a human who was seriously mentally disabled in order to find a cure for ?. I am *not* talking about someone who is brain dead; I am talking about someone who is severely compromised and lives in a sort of “eternal” present.

    And let me be very clear: this person has no family who will be concerned about him or her so there are no other interests we have to consider–only those of the sentient human who lives in the “eternal present.”

    Would you?

    I look forward to reading your answer.

    • “The discovery of the polio vaccine was delayed by animal research and it was research with human cell cultures that helped us to understand that the virus could be cultivated on nonneural tissue.”

      If animals had rights you would not need to distort medical history to make your case.

      Here is what happened:

      http://speakingofresearch.com/2011/02/01/the-monkeys-who-gave-summer-back-to-the-children/

      “Would you inflict suffering and death on a human who was seriously mentally disabled in order to find a cure for ?”

      I presume you can assert with full certainty that science will never be able to restore the health of this individual.

      I also understand this individual has no close relatives, but I also gather you are assuming harming this individual is not going to cause suffering in the rest of the population.

      Are these really the assumptions behind your question?

      More here:

      http://speakingofresearch.com/2012/04/12/objections-to-the-marginal-case-argument/

      • Yes, those are my assumptions. And, indeed, one can easily imagine this scenario obtaining in the real world. Did you see the film “Extreme Measures” with Gene Hackman and High Grant? Hackman is a neuroscientist who is using homeless schizophrenics from the streets to find a cure for paralysis. It was all being done in secret. It wasn’t a great movie but it was certainly a plausible factual scenario.

        I should also say that you have to be careful when you start using consequential considerations such as the reaction of others. That is, I assume that if the public suffered from knowing about what goes on in research labs and there was a widespread demand for a shutdown of those labs, you would not change your view about the morality of the experiments.

        But let’s not get sidetracked. I will make it easy:

        My assumptions are:
        1. X exists in an “eternal present”
        2. .X has no family to worry about X
        3. This work is being conducted in complete secret.

        And let’s make it even more interesting by positing a causal connection. Using X won’t just get data that might help Y and others down the line. Using X will directly benefit Y in that Y will not get the benefit is X is not used and Y will get the benefit if X is used. So we add:

        4. The suffering and death of X will directly benefit at least one human who is cognitively normal.

        So what’s your view? Is it okay to impose suffering and death on X?

        • No, I have not seen the movie.

          Wait… what’s up with the secret assumption? I asked if harming this individual would cause harm in others. Are you trying to suggest we can prevent such suffering by doing the work in secret and all will be fine? I don’t think so…

          Is that what do you think scientists are doing? I would agree with you that it would be desirable to have more transparency about animal research. I think the public is ultimately responsible for the research we fund and they do have the right to decide if this is something that we, as a society, consider morally justifiable or not.

          As I said, suffering matters. If the public feels like you do and they understand the consequences of stopping the work in terms of our future ability to develop cures and therapies, then stopping the research would be a decision I am prepared to accept as a member of a democratic society deciding on a moral dispute. Needless to say, I expect others to accept the opposite outcome as well. But something tells me many animal activists will not be ready to accept such a resolution.

          • You say: “I asked if harming this individual would cause harm in others. Are you trying to suggest we can prevent such suffering by doing the work in secret and all will be fine?”

            No, I am just anticipating the argument that even if we were willing to use X, the consequences of using X would militate against it. That’s all. Nothing else.

            So do you think that using X is morally justifiable?

          • Well… Let see:

            1. You somehow know a severely, impaired human patient has no chance of recovery.
            (Not sure how you know this, nor how you define “severely”… but lets assume the mind of a mouse for the sake of discussion.)

            2. You assert that no member of our human family would suffer if harmed is inflicted to this patient.
            (I think this is a funny hypothetical… but lets go along with it)

            3. You assert that the result of such work would be the reduction in suffering.

            Then the answer would be yes — the fact that we are talking about human cells instead of mouse cells is morally irrelevant.

            But I suspect the only place where you will see these conditions satisfied is in a philosophy textbook.

          • Well at least you are not being a speciesist.

            This is one of the first times in my 30 years of doing this where I have had a researcher state in a public forum that he would use a “marginal” non-consenting subject in a lethal biomedical experiment.

            I would not use either the mouse or the marginal human but that is because I maintain that cognition beyond what is entailed by sentience may be morally relevant in some circumstances (who gets a scholarship) but it is not relevant in terms of whether we can treat anyone exclusively as a means to the ends of another. In fact, I think we have greater moral obligations to the vulnerable (human and non) but that’s a discussion for another day.

            Given your position, you are, of course, committed to saying that if X, a human, is more impaired than Y, a healthy orangutan, then, other things being equal, you are morally obligated to use the human to save the orangutan.

            Also, your position then opens up the question about why we should not sacrifice those are ordinary folks for the benefit of those who have a rich cognitive life (e.g. Plato).

            But again, I at least see where you are coming from now. Your position is not speciesist but it is morally objectionable (at least to some of us). Indeed, I would refer you to the words of Bernard Williams.

          • Well, you have a short memory, because I stated the same in our debate — although there the question was about a clinically dead patient.

            “Given your position, you are, of course, committed to saying that if X, a human, is more impaired than Y, a healthy orangutan, then, other things being equal, you are morally obligated to use the human to save the orangutan.”

            Are you still living in your fantasy world where people do not care about each other?

            Given your position you would say that if we could cure cancer by killing just one mouse then we should not do it. I think most people would find that morally objectionable.

          • You say: “Well, you have a short memory, because I stated the same in our debate — although there the question was about a clinically dead patient.”

            No, *you* have a *very* short memory because I specified quite clearly that X was sentient but existed in an “eternal present.”

            You say: “Given your position you would say that if we could cure cancer by killing just one mouse then we should not do it. I think most people would find that morally objectionable.”

            We both know that’s a silly hypothetical because it will never be a real dilemma. But yes, I would not regard it as morally justifiable to kill a mouse or a “marginal” human to find a cure for cancer. You think it’s morally justifiable to kill both.

            Our disagreement is clear: you think that cognitive characteristics beyond what is necessary for sentience are morally relevant for deciding who gets treated as a thing. I don’t. Putting aside that you have offered not one single valid argument to defend that position, it does, whether you realize it, commit you to saying that it’s morally justifiable to use marginal humans to save nonhumans and to use less intelligent humans to save more intelligent ones.

            By the way, in my world, we would not be eating all the animal foods that cause us to get ill in the first place. Sure, there would be cancer but there would be much less of it.

            But I wouldn’t “sacrifice” vulnerable others to get benefits. A “sacrifice” implies that you are giving up something that you have the right to give up. I don’t think that we do have the right to “sacrifice” others in that way.

            Anyway, this has been an engaging discussion but I have a deadline on something I have to finish. I appreciate the participation of all.

          • I guess it doesn’t matter how many times I say animals are worth of moral consideration you will keep insisting we use them as if they were things. We don’t.

            Our disagreement is indeed clear — you think a mouse has the same right to life and liberty any human. If someone disagrees you charge it means that they think animals are things and can be used in any way we please. You admit no moral dilemmas. You live in a black/white moral universe… until, of course, it is time for you to go to the hospital. Then it is Ok to save your life… Very convenient.

            Yes, back to work…

      • P.S. I really don’t want us to get sidetracked so let me add:

        5. The fact that X is in an “eternal present” is as the result of a condition that all experts agree is not reversible or curable or treatable.

        I anxiously await!

      • Could you clarify whether this individual can verbalize consent or speak out against what is happening to him/her?

      • Prof. Ringach,

        First I’d like to say that I appreciate the debate you have started and I have changed my opinion of you quite a lot during the course of it.
        I still don’t agree with the way this site is trying to justify the current situation of animal testing – which, even though official statements etc. are always very nice and pretty and complying to regulations, are still horrific and animal lives are not valued nearly as much as they should.
        But I agree with you (cannot believe it!) in that the level of consciousness is something to be factored in when making difficult moral decisions.
        However I think the base difference is that I don’t believe that due to the fact that animals have a lower level of intelligence it gives humans the right to exploit them in any way they like as is currently the case.

        Your response to the idea that the experiments in the hypothetical situation is kept secret:
        “Is that what do you think scientists are doing? I would agree with you that it would be desirable to have more transparency about animal research. I think the public is ultimately responsible for the research we fund and they do have the right to decide if this is something that we, as a society, consider morally justifiable or not.”

        Here you touch on one of the most important points. Yes, today scientists involved in animal testing is doing it mostly hidden from the public eye. The links I posted to the images of the cat that were being tested on – those were only released after years of legal battle (clearly something to hide). Sure, the university made a pretty statement afterwards claiming the cat was undergoing a treatment similar to that given to human patients. I am sure if they submitted a human to the treatment they gave that cat (which ended up dead) they would have all been jailed, but that is besides the point.
        The point I am trying to make is that the public should be involved in this. The labs should put publicly accessible web-cams in their “animal storage” units and operating and experimentation rooms. That would evoke a lot more public discussion. But they will never do this since it will result in a public outcry.

        Then you also state that:
        “As I said, suffering matters. If the public feels like you do and they understand the consequences of stopping the work in terms of our future ability to develop cures and therapies, then stopping the research would be a decision I am prepared to accept as a member of a democratic society deciding on a moral dispute. Needless to say, I expect others to accept the opposite outcome as well. But something tells me many animal activists will not be ready to accept such a resolution”
        I think you are onto something here. In my opinion the problem at the moment is that animals are being used for experiments on the whim of some researcher. Yes, you will state that this is not the case and the three R’s are important etc. – but that is just lip service. I have read the guidelines of some universities animal testing programs and it seems very easy to justify animal experiments. Also – if you order to many animals for your test – the “extras” are “euthanized” (like throwing left-overs in the bin).
        A great improvement to the current situation would be if every proposal of research to be done on animals must be approved by a vote from the public. Stating the expected outcome, which animals will be used, which tests will be performed etc.
        I can guarantee you that such a process combined with constant public access to footage of the animals would greatly reduce the amount of animal testing done and reduce it only to those tests that really are required.

        • In my opinion the problem at the moment is that animals are being used for experiments on the whim of some researcher. Yes, you will state that this is not the case and the three R’s are important etc. – but that is just lip service.

          This, and your other comments, just shows you know nothing about the regulation involved in carrying out animal research. If you think a scientist walks into the Lab and runs whatever he thought the night before you are badly mistaken.

  11. Adriaan: The person is not capable of giving meaningful consent and expresses a negative reaction to the pain being inflicted on her.

    • Why do you have to inflict pain? Could you not use anesthesia? Harm is still done if you are taking his person’s life… but s/he does not have to experience pain.

  12. From your comment it seems that you think animal test subjects are always anesthetized and never feel pain due to the procedures inflicted upon them, which I am sure you know is not the case.

    I am sure you would change your opinion if a telepathic alien race with a higher level of intelligence and cognition visits earth and starts experimenting on humans due to their lower level of cognition.

  13. Prof. Francione, I challenge you to solve the following moral dilemma: my dog has ticks, what do I do? Most people would just kill the ticks to save their dog from discomfort, but it seems that according to your view this would be morally wrong: we would be taking the life of several animals (the ticks) to save one animal (the dog) from a moderate inconvenience. If the dogs and the ticks are morally equivalent, we could hardly justify killing the ticks, could we? On the other hand, if the dogs and the ticks are not morally equivalent, on what grounds would we justify that? So please, Prof. Francione, your answer: would you kill the ticks or just leave them on the dog?

  14. Sorry, Dario, but the PETA bug catcher cannot detach a tick from its host. Have you ever done this? If you pull on the tick you’ll likely split it and leave the head attached to the poor dog, risking infection. The most effective method is to apply heat to the tick to force it to let go. However, this is likely to cause more pain to the tick that the tick is causing to the dog. And it will probably kill the tick, anyway. Which brings us back to my question to Prof. Francione: is is moral to kill a tick (or any other parasite) to save a dog some inconvenience? If the answer is yes, then he’ll have to make an argument supporting why the dog is superior to the tick.

  15. Is there a way to compare the suffering of a wild mouse to that of a lab mouse? It seems to me that wild mice must suffer greatly from ticks and mites and other biting insects. And wild mice routinely live in fear of predation, for they are part of the diet of many different predators. Lab mice live pretty much free from suffering and fear — except that which may or may not be caused by the experiment they are used in. It may be that the lab mouse is overall a less stressed animal than the wild one.

    I’d be very interested to see Prof. Francione give some exact wording to his ideas of murine rights. If murine rights will protect mice from being used in scientific research, will mice also have broader legal rights to protect them from other forms of suffering? If one mouse attacks and injures another mouse, will the injured mouse have any rights in that sort of situation? If a snake kills and eats a nest of baby mice, will that — dare I say crime — have any legal penalty attached to it?

  16. All very interesting stuff.
    The only firm conclusion I can reach is that there are essentially two types of mammals that inhabit the planet; predator and prey. Carnivores and omnivores snack on herbivores.
    And, judging by what I see (with binocular vision) when I go to the dentist, I am a predator. Yes, I’m afraid so. I think that means you’re one too!
    Thank you for your consideration.