Saving Life on Earth

recent petition asks 22 scientists, myself included, to “justify your science claims.”  So far it has collected slightly over 14,000 signatures. It was organized by a group called For Life on Earth (FLOE) which bases its opposition to the use of animals in medical research based on the writings of Dr. Ray Greek.
How do I justify my science?  
It is a strange question.  To start my science is no different from the one conducted by my colleagues  — whether a geologist or a physicist.  There is only one science. It is the one based on the notion that we can postulate how some aspect of nature works, make our ideas specific enough to generate testable predictions, and use experimental methods to put those hypothesis to the test. Concepts that are refuted by the data go into the pile of rejected ideas, those that survive are pursued further and, in some occasions, after many years, and with much community effort, they are refined to the point that the account for such a vast amount experimental outcomes that we refer to them as theories.  This scientific method has proven itself over and over again over centuries and has led to the many technological advancements you enjoy today.  Science is the crown jewel of human intellect and reason.
The questions life scientists ask differ form those working in other fields.  We are interested in seeking fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems.  How do cells work?  How do they communicate with each other? How do they develop and differentiate into different tissues and organs?  How do they die and why?  In my subfield of neuroscience we ask question related to how neurons work together to allow us to store and retrieve memories, plan and generate movements, visually recognize objects, make decisions, and so on.  These are all questions scientists not only find intellectually interesting, but there is wide consensus that such fundamental knowledge is critical to enhance the health, lengthen life, and reduce the cost of illness and disability in both humans and non-human animals. 
Unfortunately, at this point in time, our methods do not allow to pursue cellular and molecular-level questions non-invasively in human subjects, and this is why part of the work requires the use of animals in research. Accordingly, a recent poll by the journal Nature revealed that nearly 92% of scientists agree with the statement “animal research is essential to the advancement of biomedical science.” 
Any reasonable person would agree a mechanic would be in a better position to fix a car if s/he actually knows the role each part plays, how they fit together, and what can happen if one of them fails.  Similarly, any reasonable person must agree that we would be in a better position to develop therapies and cures if we knew exactly how living organisms work in health, and what happens to our cells and other organs in disease. 
In contrast, the petition attempts to refute this self-evident truth, arguing that some recent scientific results explain why animal research has no value whatsoever for human health:
As the history of landmark scientific advances clearly documents, the scientific breakthroughs are often produced by the dedicated work of enlightened individuals, such as Darwin who brought us the Theory of Evolution, Einstein who gave us the Theory of Relativity and Kenner, Lister and Semmelweis who all contributed to the Germ Theory of Disease.  Science has more recently delivered the Trans-Species Modeling Theory (TSMT)[1], which demonstrates how current understanding of evolutionary biology and complexity explain decades of practical examples, the results of which oppose using animal experiments to try and predict human responses in medical research and the safety testing of new human medicines.
So what exactly is this Trans-Species Modeling Theory that the petitioners list as a scientific achievement of comparable in significance to Evolution, Relativity and Germ Theory?   
I invite you to look it up. If you search for “Trans-Species Modeling Theory” in Pubmed you will find the term not mentioned even once. If you look up the article cited by the petition in Google Scholar you will see it was authored by animal rights activists Dr. Ray Greek and Lawrence Hansen and cited a total of 5 times, not once in peered-review scientific articles. All citations are from web sites, including one from the petition itself (which, I have to say, appears written by Dr. Greek himself.)
We are also directed by FLOE to read what is supposed to be Dr. Greek’s seminal work — a book entitled “Animal models in light of evolution”. The book has been cited a total of 42 times. Not impressive. Even less when you consider 28 are self-citations from Dr. Greek himself; 5 come from animal rights activists who have been Greek’s co-authors; and the rest is from a handful of other authors, including myself which speak about the book in not very positive terms.
The FLOE web site shows Greek's book next to Darwin's "On the Origin of Species."  One if science, they other is not.  Can you tell which one is which?

The FLOE web-site shows Greek’s book next to Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” Works of comparable significance?  I don’t think so.

Let it be clear that contrary to what the petition says, science did not deliver Trans-Species Modeling Theory — a couple of animal rights activists did.  And it is not a theory of anything, but merely an opinion. To list Trans-Species Modeling Theory in the same sentence as Evolution and Relativity is a cruel joke on science.  At least, whoever wrote the petition, had the decency to spare us the pain of seeing the names of animal rights cranks listed among those of Darwin and Einstein.  
There is another reveling passage in the petition.  It refers to the use of animals in basic research as using them to gain “knowledge for knowledge sake,”  as if somehow such knowledge had no consequence whatsoever to the improvement of human health.  Such statement illustrates the ignorance of the petitioners about how science works.  When we talk about applied science, what is applied is knowledge.  You can even find this fact embedded in the opening words of the mission of the NIH, which is “to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.”
Lastly, the central question the petition tries to isolate and eager to debate is meaningless. Animals are used in medical research by formulating a hypothesis about a disease of interest, trying to recreate the disease in animal subjects, studying the basic mechanisms involved, and developing new methods to interfere or stop the development of the disease in humans.  When any one such attempt fails, it is a grave mistake to see it as a failure of science or as a general failure of the use of animals in research. It is simply a sign we failed to correctly capture all the relevant processes that take place in the human condition. Such failures are an integral part of the scientific process, as they narrow the space of possible solutions and will lead you to the accurate model.  Medical history has shown time and again that such process can, over the objections of animal rights activists, lead to a fruitful completion and save millions of human and animal lives.  
The work is justified because it saves lives on Earth.
Note: for other valid points see David Gorski’s response.

63 responses to “Saving Life on Earth

  1. So basically FLOE are attempting to wrap themselves in the mantle of evolutionary theory, while at the same using the term “theory” in exactly the same way as creationist propaganda uses it.

  2. A great piece. Another issue is that they’re not interested in science, they’re interested in reinforcing what they’ve already decided even if science contradicts them, and maybe making a buck in the process. I guess that’s why someone like Ray Greek can pretend to be a serious figure. They’re gullible enough that equally if Greek wanted their money he could have donned a white coat and stethoscope, said “Trust me, I’m a doctor” and sold them homoeopathic remedies.

    What they don’t realise is that, were Greek right, science would have already changed because by its method it doesn’t stick dogmatically to views about how things work.

    On one level it’s harmless. Just a loose confederation of slightly thick, misanthropic mad cat ladies with a hobby but, as with Creationism and the anti-vax movement it gets dangerous when it leads to bad policy and loss of life.

  3. Arguments about animal rights are no more scientific or rational than arguments about human rights. There is no scientific basis for ‘rights’ of any kind at all. Our species asserts its superiority over other species. Simple.

  4. In a sense you’re right Geoff. I wonder if our rights to life and an adequate living standards preclude universal animal analogues? I also don’t know how we’d word or police it. It further wouldn’t give a good outcome for animals – no vaccines for certain diseases for instance, unless I trained a chimp to conduct procedures of course…

  5. Hi, Since I can now no longer to respond to Zuleyka’s comments on G+, here is my original comment on your article if you actually wish to engage in debate….

    “Yet imagine the benefits of conducting research on babies or the severely mentally disabled, instead of animals. We would avoid the problems of animal models often being a poor approximation of human disease, we could have cured cancer by now! I am sure we would both find such an idea abhorrent. We accord to these humans the right for their interests not to be completely disregarded for the benefit of others, and rightly so. But on what basis do we do this? Surely it is because of our capacity to feel and suffer, to be sentient and having an interest in continuing to live.

    However despite the fact that animals can feel and suffer just as much, if not more, than babies and the severely mentally disabled, we ignore their interests, and subject them to cruel experiments for our own gain.

    Now, stopping animal experiments may indeed make medical advances harder and require a greater investment of resources. But if we are to be consistent with our protection of the rights infants and the severely mentally disabled, we must protect the rights of animals.”

    and my follow post is relevant too

    “With regard to the other points in the article about whether animal models can provide some insight into human disease, I would say article is largely correct when it comes to most animal research which is hypothesis forming. When it comes to animal testing for drug safety, many of these experiments are very flawed, though again it depends on the precise drug and experiment being used.

    On another issue though, it is often claimed that without the animal research which has allowed us to make many medical discoveries that we would be left without many of the medicines we now have. We cannot know this without doing the actual experiment however, we have no idea how science would have progressed if history had been otherwise and we had not used animal research. The scientific principle relies on the testing of hypothesis, and the idea that animal research was necessary for the advance of medicine is an untestable hypothesis. “

    • Peter has a daughter. She is comatose and the doctors says there is no chance she will ever wake up. Are you Ok with experimenting on this individual? Why not?

      Your second point misses the fact that there is plenty of human-based research done simultaneously with animal research. It is not true that we cannot compare. If our colleagues working with humans could have made much faster advancements without the use of animals we would not be using animals at all. But, as it happens, it turns out not to be the case…

  6. As a subject of a life, we all hold the fundamentally right to control what happens to our body after we are brain dead as our body is an intrinsic part of who we are, and if we were to allow our body to be used in this way it would be violating our interests not to used solely as a means to an end. Why do you think it is wrong to not experiment on her?

    My second point was referring to invasive human based research of the type we perform on animals. If we were to remove the pancreas of some humans and extract the insulin we would have been able to show that lack of insulin causes type I diabetes without ever using animals. My argument if we performed invasive experiments on humans we would have progressed faster than using animal research.

    I am not saying you or I would advocate such a thing, in fact I believe we both would find such an idea abhorrent. Yet if we are to justify our actions based on the greater good, as you do when you write “The work is justified because it saves lives on Earth”, then why are not invasive human experiments permissible?

    • A brain-dead individual has no interests. She is no longer a subject-of-a-life. If all that is morally relevant are intrinsic properties (as most animal rights philosophers argue) then there would be no reason to treat this individual any differently than a plant. I would disagree. I think there are other relational properties that matter — such as the fact this individual may have a family that would be harmed if you were to experiment on this relative.

      Indeed, if we were to do the same kind of experiments we do in animals in humans we would probably have advanced faster, but we do not consider performing such experiments in humans ethical while we consider them morally justifiable in say… a mouse. My response was based on their explicit request that we focus on the science and ignore any ethical considerations. I think they are wrong in doing so but it is their petition after all.

  7. I disagree, there interests are still being harmed even after they are dead. Our bodies our are intricically our own property, for this property to then be used against our wishes is a violation of this right.

    Consequentialist ethics fail in this regard because the person could have no family. You could try to appeal to societal level consequences, yet the fact remains there are dilemmas that the consequentialist ethics fails to solve. If the consequence of experimenting on a brain dead individual was good, would that act be permissible?

    • I do not see a brain-dead patient as having interests. The reason we respect people’s wishes as to what to do with their bodies is borne out of a societal agreement to respect such wishes. It would be morally reprehensible for others to withdraw from such agreement.

      However, suppose you have a patient that has no family, is brain dead, left no will, and is resting at the hospital with a healthy heart, lungs and liver. You have three other rooms filled with patients waiting to receive organs that would otherwise die. What do you do? My sense is that that acting to save those lives would be morally permissible, don’t you think?

  8. Additionally, the plant never had any interests so yo speak of it as having interests that could be violated even after death is nonsense.

  9. Rights are not borne out of a societal agreement, consider babies who do not have any capacity to enter into such a agreement nor up hold correlative duties. We still accord them rights.

    Regarding the dead patient, there organs should not be donated unless a relative says they would have consented. This is not only right, it is the law in many countries that we do not assume consent.

    • Babies are in a developmental trajectory to become full moral agents. As for the human patient, we are discussing what would be an ethically permissible decision, not what is legal. As I said, there are no relatives and, after searching you found no document where this patient expressed any wishes one way or another. What do you do? You let the other patients die or perform the transplants? We are not discussing the law, but what do we find morally acceptable or not. If we were to have a discussion about animal research and the law it would be very short indeed — animal research is legal. Period.

  10. A baby is not a moral agent though despite its trajectory, trajectories do not themselves have moral agency so why are they relevant. And what if the baby had a severe mental illness or a some severe disease that would csuse death long before it reached moral agency by your definition. It has no trajectory yet we would still give them rights. Contractaulism merely states that to have rights one must also have duties, but it never actually justify this.

    As for the organ donation dilemma, yes if there is no evidence of consent then the other patients should not receive an organ donation, even if that resulted on death. What if that person is against organ donation for religious reasons? By making assumptions about there consent we have violated there rights. Whereas those requiring the organs do not have a right to use another as merely a means to an end.

    When it comes to legality you are right, it cannot tell us what is right or wrong. But it can tell us about what our moral intuitions are. I contest that these are contradictory. On the one hand we give humans rights not to be treated as merely a means to an end (e.g. protections against organ donation/ experimentation against consent, or against slavery). On the other hand we justify animal research, using animals because of the good consequences. There exist some humans who have just as much consciousness, ability to suffer make ethical decisions or indeed are equal in any other morally relevant consideration to animals. To giverights to one, we must then give rights to the other. Fundamentally this means not using them as solely means to an end, and that animal research would not be justified by appeals to good consequences.

  11. Of course interests are only able to be held by beings with mental states, the question is should those beings have a right for those interests to be respected even after death. Let us say that we did find out that the individual did not consent to organ donation, and heed was vehemently against his organs being donated in the event of his dealth. If interests should not be respect us after death as you suggest, then why should we respect his belief not to be an organ donator? Should we not then disregard his beliefs as irrelevant according to the ethics your are putting forward?

    • If mental states are required, as you seem to agree, then a dead person has no interests. We respect his will out of a societal agreement, not because a dead body has interests or rights.

      • I think we will just have to agree to disagree on this one, in my opinion in is an inherent right that individuals should have there will regard to their body after death. The interests they had are being violated. Regardless the question is of no relevance for the discussion of animal rights as far as I can see.

        Additionally, I would also like to thank you for engaging with me in debate. Too often I think both sides of the argument choose to only debate the most easily refuted forms of the counter arguments, even when their stated aims is to establish a dialogue. Many thanks.

  12. Where to start with the link you sent… hmmmmm. I’ll cover what I think are his strongest arguments. First of all the author starts to write about the moral status of animals by saying “Rights, properly defined, are claims (or potential claims) to be exercised against another within a community of moral. Animals cannot have rights because they are not able to participate as autonomous rational agents in our moral community.”

    Nowhere is this justified, and I just demonstrated how this is nonsense. We give babies rights despite the fact that they are not rational agents. Properly defined for the author seems just to mean defined to support his conclusion.

    Next the author states that “it would be morally permissible to save my child and not a mouse in a burning house scenario”. and that therefore as animal rights proponents would agree with this they are being inconsistent in their belief that humans and animals should be given equal consideration. I would argue if the choice was between our child and another persons child that we would save our own. That is because there exists relational ethics that mean we value others in these types of zero sum dilemmas with reference to the individuals relationship with ourselves. However this additional set of ethics does not overcome the fundamental ethic that we should not use others as means to an ends. By saving one and not another one is not breaking this ethic. However if we were to save the life our own child by deliberately killing another, we would all consider that to be wrong. This is exactly analogous to the situation with animal research.

    Lastly marginal cases, the author argues that because we have to make quick judgements about others moral status this requires us to make a judgement based not on individual characteristics, but on general features. The author then picks out species, but gives no justification as to why this general feature. Fundamentally the author does not understand the argument from marginal case. One starts with the idea that there exist a set of characteristics to which something must have in order to be given moral status. If there exist marginal cases to which we accord rights, all those beings with equal characteristics in terms of moral status must also be given consideration. His argument against this fails firstly because we could choose a general characteristic that encapsulates all these moral beings, ie are they animals. This is just as easy as asking are they human. Secondly many ethical judgements are not made quickly but only after considerable ethical consideration. The decision to experiment on animals is one of these cases. The decision to experiment on marginal case would also be an example. Therefore, his argument fails.

    the rest of the article is then just an appeal to emotion. For example the author writes “I have come to appreciate the compassion animal activists
    have toward animals. Paradoxically, this compassion does not
    seem to extent to human patients.”
    I find such a statement offensive. I feel a huge amount of compassion for patients suffering, its why I have often volunteered in a local hospital, and if it was up to me I would dramatically increase the amount of money that goes both into non-animal and human research, as well as supporting measures to improve lifestyle factors and social/economic inequality which are the primary drivers of ill health. I would not accuse animal researchers of lacking compassion for patients because they are not performing invasive research on humans, despite the good this would bring to patients lives. One can feel compassion with resorting to denying others the rights they deserve. To suggest otherwise is just nonsense.

    • Oh, the article is written by yourself! Apologies, please replace all of the “the author”s with “you” in my last post, I did not realise you had written this.

      • I think they key is that many scientists (myself included) honestly believe that we are facing a burning house scenario when it gets to advancing medical research. Without the use of animals, we feel we are condemning many to die. If you were to see it that way, and if you already approve of saving a human over a mouse, you would approve of animal research as well. So, it seems to me, the basic disagreement is that you do not think that stopping research would have any consequences… while we think the consequences would be horrendous.

  13. Yes, I think they do believe that. They are however mistaken. In the burning house scenario you do not cause whoever is left behind to die, it is not your fault and you are not treating them as means to an end.

    Consider the burning house scerario again, replacing the choice for between your child and another’s. You would choose your own. If research was morally identical to this dilemma, then we would be forced to conclude that it is permissible to kill and experiment on another’s child to save our child’s life.

    The fact is the two situations are completely different.

  14. How about I answer your moral dilemma, then you answer the one I posed?

    Yes, it would be wrong to kill the pig to save ourselves. Fortunately there are plenty of different artificial heart valves made without using animal tissues, so in the real world there are alternatives.

    Now, what if the only source of the replacement valve was an old severey mentally disabled person. They had lived a long life and would only experience only minimal suffering, so why not kill them to save yourself or your child? If this situation is identical to the burning house situation as you suggest, and one would choose a family member or yourself over the mentally disabled person in that burning house dilemma , then why would you not kill that person for their heart valves?

    • “Yes, it would be wrong to kill the pig to save ourselves.” I take this would remain your answer you had no alternatives, correct? If so, we simply disagree. As I said, I have seen others with the same opinion quickly reverse it when it came to their own lives… but I will take your word for it.

      As for your question — no, it would be wrong to kill this other human because we have made a social contract not to engage in such behavior. The same reason it would be wrong to play with a corpse. So no, it is not the same situation at all.

  15. I am sure you are right, most people would behave unethically when there lives are threatened.

    As for you answer, firstly you are in effect saying that it is possible to enter into a social contract with someone who lacks the ability to reason and is not a moral agent. Yet your own definition of whom deserves to be included in a social contract contradicts this. Secondly, consider a Nazi society where there is no such social contract. Would it be right to kill the mentally disabled person in this situation? Why?

    • “I am sure you are right, most people would behave unethically when there lives are threatened.”

      You mean that most animal rights proponents will behave unethically, according to their own philosophy, when their lives are threatened. (Others find the work morally justifiable.) Until that time comes, animal activists enjoy displaying their moral righteousness and zealotry. Animal research is a bona-fine moral dilemma, and the proof is in the eyes of those patients whose lives are saved by the work.

      Would you face these patients and tell them they should have died instead?

  16. Of course I would not say that, it just cause them emotional distress. Unlike animal rearchers who force their ethics on animals, I would never force my ethics on others. Additionally there is a difference between using animals in the content of medicine, and using medicines that just happened to be tested on animals. I am not against the latter.

    As for not behaving ethically when our lives are threatened, I meant not just animal rights activists, but everyone.

    To repeat regarding your answer to the ethical dilemma, are you able to answer the questions I posed?

    Firstly you are in effect saying that it is possible to enter into a social contract with someone who lacks the ability to reason and is not a moral agent. Yet your own definition of whom deserves to be included in a social contract contradicts this. How do you resolve this? Secondly, consider a Nazi society where there is no such social contract. Would it be right to kill the mentally disabled person in this situation? Why?

    • “Of course I would not say that, it just cause them emotional distress.”

      You are unwilling to cause them emotional distress, but you are willing to let them die to respect the right of the mouse?

      In case of marginal cases you are entering a social contract with the family and, lacking one, with the rest of society that cares and suffers about such individuals. Other animals could also be part of that social contract if people felt the same way when an autistic child is harmed and when a mouse is harmed. But most do not feel that way. There are plenty of evolutionary reasons for why our brains evolved to suffer more when we see other humans suffering that a mouse suffering. But suffering is suffering and logic alone can go so far as to change how our brains are wired.

      Unlike animal rearchers who force their ethics on animals, I would never force my ethics on others.

      Haha… Really? I guess you don’t know many animal rights activists yourself. And you are making my point. When time comes to face the possibility of death you will not force your ethics on the animals, you will be enforcing our ethics.

  17. I contest that if it all comes down to a social contract then you would not be able to say it would be wrong in a Nazi society for the severely mentally disabled to be experimented on. How would you solve this dilemma?

    Just as you would be willing to let them die for a social contact which says we should not experiment on brain dead people, I would say we should not violate the rights of the mouse.

    Regarding non violence, I know many people who would say causing harm to others would be wrong. Indeed Gary Francione says exactly the same thing and he has about 45 thousand like on Facebook.

    I don’t know why you bring evolution into it. Firstly its a naturalistic fallacy. Secondly, you are grossly oversimplifying evolution. We strongly sympathise with members of our own group, but intertribal violence or against another gender etc is just as strong an evolutionary tendency.

    • “… I know many people who would say causing harm to others would be wrong. Indeed Gary Francione says exactly the same thing and he has about 45 thousand like on Facebook.”

      Gary Francione has no problem putting children at risk —

      That, in my book, is violence… So much for non-violence.

      My point that if suffering is morally relevant then you must consider how and when do people experience suffering. I am not appealing to nature, I am appealing to suffering being morally relevant… Evolution only is relevant if you agree it has shaped the stimuli and conditions that lead us to suffer.

  18. With regards to Francione’s position on vaccinations would be, I do not agree with him but I would like to hear his justification for this. It is not however violence, there is no physical force involved. It is a negation of the parents responsibilities, but that is not violence. And I think we both know we were referring to actual physical force used against researchers etc.

    Regardless, its irrelevant to the argument of whether animal research is right or wrong.

    I still don’t see how evolution is relevant, are you saying that humans cannot feel empathy for animals? Are you saying that because we in your opinion will always empathise more with humans than animals, we should empathise with them more and not strive to empathise with them as equally as possible? Are you saying that culture has no effect on whom we empathise with? It really is not clear.

    You have still yet to answer my question about social contracts in a Nazi society. Do you agree that if you are unable to provide an answer then the ethical system you use to support animal research must wrong?

  19. So are you unable to answer the dilemma I put to you? Is it wrong in a Nazi society for the severely mentally disabled to be experimented on? Most people would say it is wrong. This means that the idea of a social contract protecting humans who lack moral agency is not consistently applied and is therefore wrong. This in turn means that if we are to value and protect humans who lack moral agency, then to be consistent we must also protect animals who similarly lack moral agency but express equal levels of sentience. Animal research is therefore wrong.

    “Interesting, but why not consult an expert on public health instead?”

    Consult a public health expert about what? The efficacy of vaccines? I was not aware that this was a point of contention that Francione was trying to make (although without a doubt some people will try to claim they don’t work, IMO the evidence is about as clear as one could get that they work very well indeed).

    If you want to redefine violence away from actually causing physical trauma you can do, but don’t expect anyone to be convinced. Regardless even if we were to accept your definition it would mean that by not experimenting on babies you are doing “violence” to those with illnesses, as such experiments could increase our medical knowledge far beyond any animal research.

    As for the book you quote, it looks like a just similar bunch of arguments to Sam Harris’s work; filled with gross over simplifications, glossing over the effect of culture and the environment in general in shaping our emotional responses, and appeals to nature. Nevertheless, it does have a few good good reviews, so I will give it a read.

    • Is it wrong in a Nazi society for the severely mentally disabled to be experimented on?

      I think it would be wrong because of the suffering this would cause in her family and others individuals in society that care for her. But maybe in your hypothetical society neither the family nor anyone else would experience such suffering, and that’s the reason they made a contract that allows for such behavior. As I said before, if the entire population would care as much for a mouse as they do for their fellow human beings we would be living in a society where we would certainly endow animals with the same rights as those of humans. But we don’t and there is an evolutionary reason for that. You may respond we can use our reasoning to reverse such speciesist result of evolution… Perhaps, but given that 97% of the population eat animals it seems one would have a long way to go.

      My point is that such rules of moral behavior are the result of our brains and our society — not something that you can deduce from the laws of nature. Can you prove, starting from the known laws of nature, that murdering someone for no reason is morally wrong? Of course not.

      Francione is a self-described pacifist that gives advice to families not to vaccinate their children. Either he is ignorant about the benefits of science (and thus not able of making a sound ethical judgement of animal research) or he is willing to put the promotion of his ideas ahead the well-being of others. You may call the latter whatever you want.

  20. Moral behaviour is explained by genetics and our environment, but it certainly is not justified by it. The ethics you seems to be putting forward would suggest that in a Nazi society where no one cares about conducting experiments on sentient disabled humans who lack moral agency, that it would be ok to experiment on them, or would be even a good thing if it led to better medical treatments. Yet you never actually say this directly. Why not? If you had the courage of your convictions you would say it plainly.

    • “Moral behaviour is explained by genetics and our environment, but it certainly is not justified by it.”

      I don’t understand this statement…

      In an hypothetical society where organisms do not suffer because of harmed done to others I suspect they will behave the way you say and find their actions justified. Consider the “Borg” in the Star-Trek series, for example. No, this is not how I would behave because I am not such an organism. But I am sure the Borg sees its actions justified.

      • Well justification is a rational set of arguments that demonstrates something to be true, an explanation would be the reasons for which we believe something is true. Consider how people tend to value humans above other species, this could be explained as being due to our evolution, but justified based on some characteristic humans have over other animals. One could merge the two if one tried to say that evolution is not in itself just an explanation, but also a justification because its natural. But then one would be committing the naturalistic fallacy.

        If we were to consider the borg, one could explain their behaviour based on some programming they have or whatever genetic manipulations they had that made them so aggressive etc. But to justify it one would have to appeal to the superior characteristics of the borg.

        Now to return to the question at hand, another problem with the social contract is that it does not say why we should care about animals or not or why we should care about humans without moral agency. Now although I cannot prove that we should value anything in particular, I do think that I can prove why we shouldn’t value some things. In particular, if valueing something leads to a contraction then we must logically be incorrect.

        The problem with valuing species is that it is term with fuzzy edges. Lets say we define species based on the ability to produce fertile offspring. Now, it is a fact that we would be able to breed with our immediate evolutionary ancestors, they differ a bit genetically from you average modern human, but not enough to stop offspring being fertile, so we are the same species and they deserve rights. But what about the immediate evolutionary ancestor of our immediate evolutionary ancestor. It is a different species compared to modern humans, but not compared to our immediate evolutionary ancestor. Do they have rights or not? Either way it leads to a contradiction. Therefore species is not able to be used to judge if someone has rights or not.

        • “…justification is a rational set of arguments that demonstrates something to be true”

          Ok, so I ask again — can you provide a justification for why killing another human being as a means to an end is morally wrong?

          And can you explain in which way such justification would apply to a human killing a mouse, but not a lion killing a gazelle?

  21. Sorry, that last post missed off my final paragraph….
    To continue, If one therefore cares for humans who are not moral agents, one must do so not on the basis of species bet on the basis of another morally relevant characteristic. I contest that all morally relevant characteristics contained by that severely mentally disabled person are also held by animals, and that if we care for one, to be consistent we should care for the other.

  22. Yes I can provide a justification, I just cannot objectively prove it to be true due to the is ought divide. All sentient animals have interests, and therefore deserve to be treated as such by those able to make rational choices. This means not using them as means to an end and respecting their interests. Therefore murder is wrong. However, as a lion is not able to make a choice, its actions are amoral.

    • Explain how interests are the same for individuals with different brain states. If they are different, explain why that does not justify different moral status. And finally, all your justification relies on what living organisms perceive and feel. As such your morals will depend on what species were are talking about and thus not universal. Ethics lives in the brain of those posing the question.

      • I would say that different individuals that have different brain states do have different interests, and different types of moral statuses with regards to different rights. A human with moral agency will have an interest in having a say in how we are governed, therefore they can vote. A baby however has no concept of government and therefore cannot express an interest in how we are governed. Therefore no right to vote.

        All sentient beings however have an interest to continue to live, therefore with respect to the right of not being treated as a means to an end, deserve to be treated as having the same moral status. Just because some have more rights than others, such as the mature healthy human compared to the baby, does not mean that fundamental rights are negated. All species of animals that are sentient therefore have the right not to be subject to animal research.

        Coming back to the point I made before regarding the fuzzy boundaries of species, do you agree that if someone gives moral status to humans who don’t have moral agency, that species cannot be used as a justification to prevent moral status being given to animals? And that therefore we should give moral status to all humans and animals alike?

  23. This link covers the differences between justification and explanation quite well

  24. Which human? Compared to human that is sentient but not a moral agent, then yes they are equal.

    If we are comparing a mouse and a healthy mature human, the human will have a concept of death that means their interest in life will be different to the mouse’s. However if we are to treat the mature human and non moral agent human as having an equal right to life, so too must we treat the animal as having an equal right.

    • Ok… so we agree then that a normal human and a normal mouse have different interests in life that justifies them having different moral status.

      This happens at least 99% of the time.

      So you demand animal research to stop because of a 1% inconsistency?

      Are you really asking to replace a graded moral status theory with another one that posits the same degree of moral status for all living beings which, according to what we discussed, would be 99% inconsistent?

      It just makes no sense.

      In any case, I reject the notion of moral individualism. Intrinsic properties is not all that matters. If that was the case, I should be able to do whatever I like with a dead human body that has no mental states and thus has no interests at all. But you oppose and assert that a dead human body has rights that a rock doesn’t. Whatever justification you are thinking about, it cannot rest on the intrinsic properties alone. So you are not a moral individualist either… and once you give up moral individualism you don’t even have the 1% inconsistency you cling to so dearly. It matters that that there are other humans that will suffer when they see someone experimenting on a disabled human being. And it would also matter if humans experience the same suffering if one were to experiment on a mouse.

  25. “Ok… so we agree then that a normal human and a normal mouse have different interests in life that justifies them having different moral status.”

    Whoa there, I did not say that. I said “statuses”. With regard to the moral status of being treated with as a means to an end, all animals and humans have the same moral status as they all have the same interest to life. I said this interest is experienced differently by different individuals. But just because they are experienced differently does not mean these differences mean that one must treat them differently.

    There is no logical rule that says that individuals with different characterises should not be part of the same grouping if some of those characteristics which define group member ship are shared. This is so obvious that I feel I shouldn’t really have to point this out. You’re a biologist right, so consider the membership of being part of the group of vertebrates. Different vertebrate species will have very different characteristics but share a common feature of having a vertebral column, even though the precise characteristics of that vertebral column differ by species and individuals. There is no inconsistency there. However If I find a new species that despite having all the characteristics of having a vertebral column, I were to define it as an invertebrate, I would be contradicting myself. They have a vertebral column, and this characteristic defines membership of the group. Additionally, just because I am part of one grouping does not mean I can’t also be part of another grouping, such as being a mammal or a reptile.

    Similarly, having an interest in living defines membership of the group that deserves to not be treated as means to an end. This does not preclude the presence of other characteristics which define membership of groups that deserve to have the vote etc. There is therefore no contradiction in the human and mouse having some of the same rights, but an absolute inconsistency in denying animals rights when one gives them to humans who have the same morally relevant characteristics.

    Now, you would argue that they do have different morally relevant characteristics, because most humans care about non-moral agent humans. However, no matter how you define ethics, you must agree that moral agents to be such must be rational i.e. to be a moral agent is to be rational. Therefore if people care about non-moral agents, then as species cannot be used as a limitation on whom we should and shouldn’t care for (as it leads to contradictions due to its fuzzy boundaries, a point you seem to accept), then they must also care for animals. This means that animals should also be given the same protections you give via your social contract to non-moral agent humans.

    • “…all animals and humans have the same moral status as they all have the same interest to life.[...] I said this interest is experienced differently by different individuals. But just because they are experienced differently does not mean these differences mean that one must treat them differently.”

      First you state that mental states matter. A minute later you write things that seem to deny they do. If you honestly think a worm has interests in its life the same way a human has an interest in her life just because these interests are “experienced differently,” then we have very deep differences… and you will of course disagree with Regan, Singer and others as well.

  26. “Intrinsic properties is not all that matters. If that was the case, I should be able to do whatever I like with a dead human body that has no mental states and thus has no interests at all. But you oppose and assert that a dead human body has rights that a rock doesn’t. Whatever justification you are thinking about, it cannot rest on the intrinsic properties alone.”

    First of all, a dead human has the intrinsic property of having once had interests. A rock does not. Secondly in your example you are still ascribing to moral individualism when you appeal to the effect experimenting on a dead human to the family, i.e. it is the individuals family members reaction that would make that action wrong and it is those individuals rights not to be caused suffering that is being violated.

    • First of all, a dead human has the intrinsic property of having once had interests.

      Then a senile human patient, with the cognitive ability of a mouse, can be treated differently because it once had the same cognitive abilities as a normal human? And what about the atoms that were once part of a normal human being? They are morally different from other atoms? This seems ridiculous.

      • The atoms in a dead human are morally different from other atoms because they are in such a structure defined as a human body, a body which was in the possession of interests. Once that structure is destroyed, so too are the rights they once had.

  27. Mental states matter in far as they allow as to have additional interests. Both humans and animals are of the group that has interests in life. Its pretty simple.

    • Not the same interests in life. Not at all.

    • Peter Singer — “ [...]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.”

      Tom Regan — “[...] 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.”

  28. Yes, one could say they have different types of interest in life. But the fact is they are still of s group that has interests.

    Just as fish and mammals have different types of vertebral columns doesn’t affect the fact that these two groups do share a common feature of having vertebrae, so too do differences in types of interest not affect membership of the group that has interests.

    The question then is should it be this group to whom we give rights, or just those who experience interests like s normal human. The fact is we do give them to all humans and therefore there we obliged to extend these interests to animals, as any limitation based on species leads to contradictions.

    I have no ides why you are quoting Regan and Singer, I have never appealed to them. There ethics are also fundamentally different from one another, do if one is able yo disagree with one why not both? Are there ethics the only two we have to choose from?

    I ask you again, do you agree that if one cares for non-moral agent humans that limiting this care due to species creates a contradiction?

    • Your previous assertion that interests depend on mental states is not consistent with the view that all sentient beings have the same interest in life. For all I know, you could as well argue that bacteria that avoid noxious stimuli has an interest in life that it experiences in its own way, inaccessible to us, and therefore with the same basic rights to freedom and liberty as a human subject. And I already replied several times to the marginal case scenario — I reject the view that intrinsic properties are all that matters.

      We have been going in circles for a while now… it seems a good time to bring this conversation to a close. Thanks for sharing your views.

  29. I don’t think we have been going in circles at all, but have been making some good headway into what lies at the root our difference in opinions.

    “Your previous assertion that interests depend on mental states is not consistent with the view that all sentient beings have the same interest in life.”

    Not at all, they do not need to have the exact same type of interest to life, they merely need to have AN interest to life to have rights. Mental states will affect what additional interests one has. If your principle was true that the different characteristics of types of things affects their ability to be grouped, then there would be not such thing as groups. The different types of vertebrae a fish compared to mammal has would mean that they could not be grouped as vertebrates. This is just not the case, it makes no sense.

    You say that you reject the idea that intrinsic properties are all that matter, yet I think we both know this is not a complete answer. Specifically you have not answered if you agree with the fuzzy boundary argument against using species as a group to which rights belong. Do you agree or not? If not how do you solve the dilemma I proposed regarding the rights we give to our immediate evolutionary ancestors? If you cannot answer this, then we must agree that using species is contradictory. Regardless of whether you think intrinsic properties are not all that count or not, the fact remains that using species specifically as a group to which we should give rights is contradictory and therefore must be wrong. This argument in and of itself does not mean that all such groupings are wrong, merely that using species is incorrect.

    Therefore the response that you reject the idea that intrinsic properties are all that matter, is incomplete for a couple of reasons. One, it does not justify why you reject the counter arguments. And two, the argument against using species does not necessary entail believing that all non-intrinsic do not matter.

    Regardless, if that was to be your final reply, many thanks for debating with me.

  30. Ps. Sometimes it is hard to really understand someone else’s argument in the heat of a debate. Here is a good article about why using species is wrong. It is perhaps slightly weak when it comes to the science, but the philosophy is air tight

  31. Oh yes, one more thing, I forgot to reply to you argument that “For all I know, you could as well argue that bacteria that avoid noxious stimuli has an interest in life that it experiences in its own way, inaccessible to us, and therefore with the same basic rights to freedom and liberty as a human subject.”

    Bacteria are not conscious, the have never been shown to have cognitive biases or episodic memory. Mice have. As bacteria are not conscious, they have no interests, and therefore no rights.

Please leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s