Not just intelligence: Why humans deserve to be treated better than animals

One of the cornerstone ideas of the animal rights movement is that there are no fundamental differences between humans and animals: humans are just animals, only more intelligent (Ryder, 1991). Therefore, some argue, since having a larger brain is just another quirk, like having larger tusks, animals should have many of the same rights as humans. In particular, they should have a right to life, a right to freedom and a right not be used by humans. Moreover, the well-being of humans should not be put above the well-being of animals (Singer, 1991), so that doing research on animals cannot be justified by improvements in human health, as scientists claim (Ringach, 2011; Bennett and Ringach, 2016). Of course, all of this flies in the face of the values of all human societies from prehistory to date, which have used animals for food, clothing, work and entertainment. No matter, says the animal right activist, that is unethical and has to stop (Reagan, 1985).

In the past, justification for human primacy over animals came from religions that stated that humans are superior to animals because they have an immortal soul, and that God commanded humans to rule over animals. However, the Theory of Evolution and modern physiology have pushed back against those beliefs, showing that there is an evolutionary continuum between animals and humans and that there are no fundamental differences between the physiology of the humans and other mammals (Rachels, 1990) . If the only difference between humans and animals is that of a higher intelligence, does that justify that we treat ourselves better than the animals? Or is this just self-interested behavior, “speciesism”, as the animal rights proponent Richard Ryder has called it (Ryder, 1991)? To strengthen their case, animal right proponents invoke the “marginal case”: these include infants and those with significant mental impairment who, lacking superior intelligence, then should presumably be treated the same way as animals (Reagan, 1985; Singer, 1991). Otherwise, they argue, we should be prepared to give animals the same rights that we readily give these marginal case humans.

However, modern neuroscience has in fact uncovered many differences between humans and the rest of the animals that makes us unique. These differences are not limited to a quantitative difference in intelligence but extend to many other mental and behavioral abilities that make us completely unique (Penn et al., 2008), a qualitatively different type of being.  Below I provide a list of the most important of those abilities.

theory-of-mind-of-children

  1. Theory of Mind is the ability to understand what other people are feeling and thinking [pp. 172-178 in (Blackmore, 2004); pp. 48-54 in (Gazzaniga, 2008)]. We do that by running inside our heads a model of what is happening in other person’s mind. Of course, the model is not always right, but nevertheless it is extremely valuable because it lets us predict the behavior of people around us. Theory of mind seems to require the right anterior insula, a part of the brain cortex that evolved very rapidly in apes. The function of the right anterior insula is to create hypothetical models of the internal state of our body in different circumstances (Craig, 2010, 2011). For example, when we imagine what it would feel like to stab our toe, is the right anterior insula doing that. Likewise, the right anterior insula can make a model of the internal state of the body of another person. Of course, theory of mind is much more than that and involves the cognitive abilities of many other parts of the brain. Research on theory of mind has revealed it to be uniquely human (Penn and Povinelli, 2007), although some studies claims to have found it in rudimentary form in chimpanzees (Call and Tomasello, 2008; Yamamoto et al., 2013). One negative aspect of theory of mind is that it often creates the delusion of attributing human consciousness to inanimate objects or animals. The same way we project our thoughts and feelings to a person that we see behaving in a way similar to us, we project human thoughts and feelings to an animal or an object we see doing something that resembles human behavior. This delusional form of theory of mind is responsible for the anthropomorphizing of animals that is so common in modern culture.
  1. Episodic memory. There are two basic forms of memory: procedural and declarative [pp. 303-306 in (Gazzaniga, 2008)]. Procedural memory is present in both humans and animals and consists in the retention of perceptual, motor and cognitive skills that are then expressed non-consciously. For example, when we walk, swim, ski, listen to music, type on a keyboard or process the visual information we get from a television screen, we use procedural memory. Declarative memory stores information about facts and beliefs about the world, and can be further divided into semantic and episodic memory. Semantic memory is about facts in the world that stand by themselves, independently of our self, whereas episodic memory is remembering things that happened to us. That is, episodic memory retains events as they were experienced by ourselves in a particular place and time. Episodic memory appears to be uniquely human, because it involves subjective experiences, a concept of self and subjective time. This is important because it allows us to travel mentally in time through subjective experiences, while animals are locked in the present of their current motivational state.

guilt

  1. Humans emotions. Mammals, birds and some other animals have a set of six basic emotions listed by Ekman: anger, fear, disgust, joy, sadness and surprise. However, we humans are able to feel many other emotions that regulate our social behavior and the way we view the world: guilt, shame, pride, honor, awe, interest, envy, nostalgia, hope, despair, contempt and many others. While emotions like love and loyalty may be present in mammals that live in hierarchical societies, emotions like guilt, shame and their counterparts pride and honor seem to be uniquely human. There is much controversy these days on whether dogs feel guilt and shame, there is evidence that they do not, but they may also have acquired this emotion as a way to interact with humans. What is clear is that many of the emotions that we value as human are not present in animals.

theory-of-mind

 

  1. Empathy and compassion. Empathy is defined as the capacity to feel what another person is feeling from their own frame of reference. It is a well-established fact that many animals react to distress by other animals by showing signs of distress themselves. However, this does not seem to represent true empathy as defined above, but a genetically encoded stress response in anticipation of harm. Since empathy requires feeling what the other person is feeling from their own frame of reference, it seems to require theory of mind. Only if we stripe the requirement of adopting the other’s frame of reference we can say that animals have empathy. Empathy involves the newly evolved anterior insula in humans (Preis et al., 2013), bonobos and chimpanzees (Rilling et al., 2012). Compassion is currently thought to be different from empathy because it involves many other parts of the brain. It seems to be associated with complex cultural and cognitive elements. Therefore, it seems safe to assume that animals are not able to feel compassion.
  1. Language and culture. Although animals do communicate with each other using sounds, signs and body language, human language is a qualitative leap from any form of animal communication in its unique ability to convey factual information and not just emotional states. In that, human language is linked to our ability to store huge amounts of semantic and episodic memory, as defined above. The human brain has a unique capacity to quickly learn spoken languages during a portal that closes around 5-6 years of age. Attempts to teach sign languages to apes has produced only limited success and can be attributed to a humanization of the brain of those animals, raised inside human culture. The effectiveness of spoken and written language to store information across many generations gave raise to human cultures. The working of the human brain cannot be understood without taking culture into account. Culture completely shapes the way we think, feel, perceive and behave. Although there are documented cases of transmission of learned information across generations in animals, producing what we could call an animal culture, no animal is as shaped by culture as we are.
  1. Esthetic sense or the appreciation of beauty also seems to be uniquely human. Of course, animals can produce great beauty in the form of colorful bodies, songs and artful behavior. What seems to be lacking is their ability to appreciate and value that beauty beyond stereotypical mating and territorial behaviors. Even attempts to teach chimps to produce art by drawing have largely failed.
  1. Ethics is the ability to appreciate fairness, justice and rights. It is at the very core of our ability to form stable societies and to cooperate to achieve common goals. It depends on theory of mind (which allows us to “put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes”); on social emotions like guilt, shame, pride and contempt; on empathy and compassion, and on cultural heritage. Lacking all those mental abilities, animals have no sense of ethics. Even though some studies have shown that monkeys have a primitive sense of fairness (particularly when it applies to their own interest), it is but a pale anticipation of our sense of justice. It simply goes to show how that ethics is rooted in our evolutionary history. The fact that animals cannot even remotely comprehend the concept of rights is a strong argument for why they should not have rights. What sense does it make to give animals something that they do not know that they lack?

use-of-language

  1. Extended consciousness. They question of what is consciousness has been called by scientists and philosophers “the hard problem” due to the difficulty of answering it (Blackmore, 2004). Therefore, the related question of whether animals have consciousness, or what animals have it, remains similarly unanswered in the strict sense. However, based on their behavior, we commonly assume that animals like cats, dogs and horses are conscious and able to make some autonomous decisions. On the other hand, unless we invoke some mystical definition of consciousness, it is safe to assume that animals with small nervous systems, like jellyfish, worms, starfish, snails and clams have no consciousness whatsoever. They are like plants: living beings able to react to the environment as automatons. That leaves a lot of animals for which it is hard to guess whether they are conscious or not: insects, fish, octopi, lizards and small mammals like mice and rats. What has been becoming clear is that we humans possess a kind of consciousness that no other animal has: the ability to see ourselves as selves extending from the pass to the future [pp. 309-321 (Gazzaniga, 2008)]. This special kind of consciousness has been called by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio “extended consciousness” [Chapter 7 in (Damasio, 1999)] and allow us a sort of “mental time travel” to relive events in the past and predict what may happen to us in the future (Suddendorf and Corballis, 2007). Extended consciousness is based on our ability to have episodic memory and theory of mind. Episodic memory configures remembered events around the image of the self, whereas theory of mind allows us to create a model of our own mind as it was during a past event or to hypothesize how it would be in a future event. I should also point out that a few animals (apes, dolphins and elephants) may turn out to have episodic memory, theory of mind and hence extended consciousness. However, this is still very much in doubt.
  1. Suffering and happiness. It is a common mistake to confuse suffering with pain and happiness with joy. Pain is the representation of a bodily state and the emotion associated with it (Craig, 2003). Likewise, joy is an emotion associated with an excited but pleasant body state in an agreeable environment. Suffering and happiness are much deeper than that, and refer to the totality of a mental state, encompassing cognition, emotion and state of consciousness. Although suffering and happiness are normally associated with certain emotions, there is not always a correspondence with them. For example, one can be happy while feeling scared or sad, or suffer even in the presence of a passing joy. The error of philosophers like Peter Singer (Singer, 1991) and Tom Reagan (Reagan, 1985) is that they consider suffering as something that occurs independently of cognition and other mental abilities, when it does not. Arguably, happiness and suffering require some continuity in time, which would seem to require extended consciousness. Furthermore, conceptions of happiness extending to antiquity refer to lifelong attitudes like hedonism (the quest for personal pleasure) and eudemonia (working to acquire virtue or to achieve goals that transcend oneself), pointing to the fact that human happiness depends on cultural values. In view of all this, we need to wonder whether happiness and suffering can exist in beings that have no episodic memory, no extended consciousness, no sense of self, and no culture. Can happiness and suffering really be attributed to animals lacking these mental abilities? Or is this an illusion, an anthropomorphizing caused by the overreaching of our theory of mind? Without going to that extreme, it is quite clear that we humans have a capacity to be happy and to suffer that goes far beyond what animals can experience. So human suffering counts more than any suffering than an animal could have.

There are many more differences between human and animals. However, the ones that I have listed here are important because they give us our special feeling of humaneness. All of them are based on scientific facts about the human mind that are slowly being unraveled by neuroscience, not on religious beliefs or on ideology. However, what cannot be based on science is the value we attribute to those differences. Ultimately, this is a decision based on our ethical intuition. Still, for most people what determines how much consideration we should give to a being is its ability to be conscious; to feel empathy; to feel guilt and pride and shame and all other human emotions; to be happy as we are happy and to suffer like we suffer.

An important corollary of the ideas proposed here is to utterly refute the “marginal case” argument. Thus, even when a human brain is damaged by disease, accident or old age, most of the properties that I have listed here remain because they are deeply engrained in the way the human brain works. Theory of mind and extended consciousness appear early in human life and are the last things to go in a deteriorating brain. It takes coma to deprive us of them. A person may have a reduced intelligence or other cognitive disabilities, but s/he still has theory of mind, empathy, compassion, extended consciousness and all those human emotions. That is why when we encounter those people we recognize them as humans and we know we should treat them as humans. They are not animals and should never be treated as such. Intelligence is just a tiny part of what it means to be human.

Another important idea is that there are vast differences in the mental abilities of animals and, therefore, in the way they should be treated. Many animals, like jellyfish, worms and clams, do not have any mental capabilities at all, do not feel pain, and can be treated the same as plants. In the other side of the mental spectrum, it is possible that we will find that the great apes, dolphins and elephants have some form of theory of mind and extended consciousness, and therefore deserve a special treatment compared to other animals. Dog and cats have evolved special ways to communicate with humans that make them special in our eyes. So, when it comes to ethical consideration, animals should not be put in a general category, but each species should be assigned its own value. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in the quandary of not being able to rid our dog of fleas because these insects have the same “rights” as the dog. This is, in fact, what we have been doing all along: to establish a hierarchy of animals that deserve more or less consideration based on their mental abilities, putting humans at the top. Speciesism is unavoidable because we cannot treat different species of animals the same way.

Let me finish by saying that this is not an argument to treat animals cruelly or poorly. It is only an argument to treat humans better than animals and to keep using animals for our benefit. We should care about the welfare of animals, even as we try to understand how similar and how different they are from ourselves. What moves us to treat animals well is our empathy, our compassion, our sense of fairness and our cultural values. Things that animals do not have. Ultimately, we must treat animals right not because of what they are, but because of who we are.

by Juan Carlos Marvizon, Ph.D.

References:

Bennett Allyson J, Ringach Dario L (2016) Animal Research in Neuroscience: A Duty to Engage. Neuron 92:653-657.

Blackmore S (2004) Consciousness: An Introduction. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Call J, Tomasello M (2008) Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? 30 years later. Trends Cogn Sci 12:187-192.

Craig AD (2003) A new view of pain as a homeostatic emotion. Trends Neurosci 26:303-307.

Craig AD (2010) The sentient self. Brain Struct Funct 214:563-577.

Craig AD (2011) Significance of the insula for the evolution of human awareness of feelings from the body. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1225:72-82.

Damasio AR (1999) The Feeling of What Happens.

Gazzaniga MS (2008) Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Penn DC, Povinelli DJ (2007) On the lack of evidence that non-human animals possess anything remotely resembling a ‘theory of mind’. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B, Biological sciences 362:731-744.

Penn DC, Holyoak KJ, Povinelli DJ (2008) Darwin’s mistake: explaining the discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds. The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 31:109-130; discussion 130-178.

Preis MA, Schmidt-Samoa C, Dechent P, Kroener-Herwig B (2013) The effects of prior pain experience on neural correlates of empathy for pain: An fMRI study. Pain 154:411-418.

Rachels J (1990) Created from Animals: The Moral Implication of Darwinism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Reagan T (1985) The Case for Animal Rights. In: In Defence of Animals (Singer P, ed), pp 13-26. New York: Basic Blackwell.

Rilling JK, Scholz J, Preuss TM, Glasser MF, Errangi BK, Behrens TE (2012) Differences between chimpanzees and bonobos in neural systems supporting social cognition. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 7:369-379.

Ringach DL (2011) The Use of Nonhuman Animals in Biomedical Research. American Journal of Medical Sciences 342:305-313.

Ryder R (1991) Speciecism. In: Animal Experimentation: The Moral Issues (Baird RM, Rosenbaum SE, eds), pp 24-34. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

Singer P (1991) The Significance of Animal Suffering. In: Animal Experimentation: The Moral Issues (Baird RM, Rosenbaum M, eds), pp 57-66. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

Suddendorf T, Corballis MC (2007) The evolution of foresight: What is mental time travel, and is it unique to humans? Behav Brain Sci 30:299-313; discussion 313-251.

Yamamoto S, Humle T, Tanaka M (2013) Basis for cumulative cultural evolution in chimpanzees: social learning of a more efficient tool-use technique. PLoS One 8:e55768.

61 responses to “Not just intelligence: Why humans deserve to be treated better than animals

  1. Your thoughts about animals and their abilities to perceive emotion, empathy, compassion, and to possess thought are archaic at best. As someone who has raised and trained border collies to herd sheep, and who has owned horses, cows, chickens, etc, I can say with confidence and certainty that your perception of animals is off. I have also studied cougars, and coyotes, and both are some of the smartest beings on the planet. Perhaps the studies you quote are flawed or limited. Animals (especially mammals) certainly feel more than six emotions. I am sorry that you have either not been exposed to animals as a child or that you lack empathy for them. But they are not on the planet for human use. What a sick and unhealthy perspective.

    Your points 1-5, all inaccurate. Of course animals feel empathy, and understand what others are going through. And of course they communicate. They communicate in more diverse modes than humans. It’s just different from many humans. No of course they don’t speak english, but they ‘speak’ through nonverbal cues, actions, and some vocal use as well. And have you ever read any study on a wild animal’s instincts? They are so in touch with their internal messaging systems (and perhaps systems we don’t even know about) that they can sense when they are being tricked or when someone has ill intentions with them.

    As far as #6 goes, you state this point about asthetics as though there were one definition of beauty. Every culture has a different definition so of course animals have their own. And that usually applies to physical qualities in a mate. But animals can create art, just like humans. Elephants and monkeys have been trained to. Don’t forget, humans are all trained to as well.

    #7, ethics. The animal kindgom has a code. They do not skin alive other animals. They do not electrocute other animals. They do not shoot other animals. With the exception of cougars, and most cats, animals don’t torture their pray. There are multiple videos of animals helping animals of another kind, ones they would normally eat. Why? Ethics. Compassion. Empathy.

    #8, extended consciousness. Do you know that animals dream? Mammals dream they are running, playing, in danger, feeling loved and happy, scared, adventuring, etc. i know this from observing all dogs i have ever owned. They absolutely have different levels of consciousness.

    #9 is a jumbled, ramble of a point and you would do better to delete it.

    I get that you are saying humans need to elevate treatment of other humans, but it is really dispicable that you would take this angle as a way to pitch that message. And I disagree that humans should continue to treat animals poorly for their benefit. This argument seems sociopathic. Clearly you dont have experience with animals, especially mammals. And regarding other animals, we don’t really know everything there is to know. I mean, we dont even know the full capacity of the human brain. How do you think we would have all answers about all animals? Because of a few flawed studies you’ve quoted? I really hope you consider deleting this entire post because if even just one ignorant person believes it to be true, that could have a real negative impact. I dont know if you’re a graduate student or maybe even high school, but get with the program — and maybe volunteer at an animal rescue farm or even an animal shelter so you can see firsthand how ridiculous your points are.

    • Unfortunately, “I looked at my dog and this is what I think” doesn’t really cut it in science. In a world where we can measure individual brain cells firing, we have learnt a lot – some of which has turned traditional understanding on its head.

  2. Justin Schwartz

    Nice piece. I haven’t thought through the issues on the animal side enough to evaluate your argument, but certainly the wide range of intellectual and moral capacities people have, seems crucial, and not just intelligence. You might look at some of the arguments around abortion and why women matter more than fetuses–are extreme animal rights people often anti-choice? Also, Martha Nussbaum has some, well a lot, of discussion of why and how extremely intellectually disabled people letter in her book Frontiers of Justice.

  3. Quote “It is only an argument to treat humans better than animals and to keep using animals for our benefit”. Your argument that human deserve to be treated better because we are more intelligent is like saying it was better that the American Indians were usurped by white colonists because they were more adavanced. Well humans are better than animals, we are far better at wasting, we are the ultimate destroyers of the environment so we are far better than animals in that respect, you would be hard pressed to find a more self indulgent, depraved, sexually deviant, brutal,hypocritical, sanctimonious, insincere, dishonest creature than human beings. We are the only species that practises war, we can kill each other off in the millions in the most horrific of ways imaginable. Sociopathy is also unique to Humans, we are the only living thing that will kill our own kind for pure sport & pleasure so we are clearly way in front of animals in that respect as well. Human beings are the only creature that that proliferates poverty whereby 1% live comfortably & the other 99% live in misery, we are also the only species that breeds like blowflies when conditions are not favourable, famines, war, poverty, you name it, anytime is a good time for us humans to breed. Considering the woeful state of the world to today, unending war in the middle east, growing divides between rich & poor, catastrophic climate change that could very well render our planet unliveable if nothing is done, One could cite endless example that show the human race is the most inharmonious incompatible creature on Earth. One also grows wearisome of the old argument to justify all of the above that we as a race still have a long way to go, well we have been around for 30000 years & we are going backwards rather than forward so that argument has no merit, if we as a race were ever going to get it right then we would have by now in the 21st century but we haven’t, we are worse off than now than we ever were!!!

    • Juan Carlos Marvizon

      Your hatred for the human species is truly remarkable. It must be very hard to live with those thoughts knowing that you are irrevocably human. Maybe you should reflect on how specious your arguments are. Ethical concepts can only be applied to humans, animals are completely oblivious to them so they cannot be judged to be good or evil. Some of the things you say are factually wrong: many predators do kill for pleasure, including killing its own kind. In any case, I will keep your comments in mind as an example of how animal rights activists are more about hating humans than loving animals.

      • Justin Schwartz

        We can apply ethical concepts to animals without expecting them to apply such concepts to themselves. That is what you do in this piece.

  4. John Wang I really don’t mind if you think my opinion doesn’t matter but accussing me of being some part of cult is low. I and many others are against all forms of animal cruelty and if you have a problem with that than just ignore me. Also, using your argument, if you like animal testing so much, you should just ignore the opposition to it.

  5. “What sense does it make to give animals something that they do not know that they lack?”

    Imagine if a human, though congenital disease or otherwise, were to have the mind comparable to that of an animal. We still give them rights, and those rights mean that individual has the freedom not to be killed for medical purposes for example. Rights give meaningful protections, even if the individuals dont understand what a right is.

    Species are merely groups of individuals with a degree of genetic dissimilarity to our own group, to give rights then to the human with the mind of the animal but deny them to the animal itself is simply genetic discrimination. Whether or not we can be perfect in not discriminating based on genetics is irreverent, that would be the nirvana fallacy. The perfect is not the enemy of the good, its always better to do as good as we can. How good can we be? We can start by disregarding the logical fallacies like the nirvana fallacy to justify discrimination.

    As for some of your points on the science of cognition, regarding animal suffering and happiness. We know that many animals have cognitive biases, we know they have episodic “like” memory. We dont know its exactly like to be an animal with these abilities. For all we know their relative lack of self consciousness makes them more senstitive to feeling suffering. We have no idea. But if a human were to have such abilities but lack language ect, we would again treat that human with respect and kindness, not exploitation.

    Imagine one day in the future we are a space traveling civilisation. We come across a species on a planet, creatures with all the capabilities of animals. Those animal capabilities are rich and varied, for example while you appear to just discard evidence of empathy in non primate animals, in fact it is an area of research that is quite contentious http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/05/rats-forsake-chocolate-save-drowning-companion Would we then treat those aliens with kindness and care, or would we exploit them? For vegans the answer is obvious. What reasons would you give to exploit them? A paltry dismissal of their capabilities and logical fallacies?

  6. Thank you Juan for that interesting walk through comparative psychology but most of it is beside the point.

    The only psychological question that is logically relevant to the animal rights debate is “can they suffer?” The ‘higher’ mental capacities are mostly red herrings. Their main use in animal rights literature is to demonstrate affinities between ourselves and other animals, thereby making it easier for us to empathise with their suffering.

    It is suffering alone, which defines whether an ethical issue – and hence a question of rights – exists. If an entity is non-sentient, it cannot suffer or be wronged – hence no ethical dilemma however smart it is (a brilliant robot, for example). But wherever suffering exists – whoever the victim is – a moral question is automatically triggered: should the victim’s desire to not suffer be respected and protected?

    Yes, humans do have some mental capacities that may or not be present in other animals but it does not logically follow that these entitle us to greater respect or protection. To say that they do is just a variation on the “might is right” view, widely seen these days as barbaric and morally untenable. The more widely held view is that enhanced powers of reasoning, empathy, theory of mind etc. actually heighten our obligations towards those less endowed.

    Within our own species, fundamental protections (call them rights if you will) are not accorded hierarchically on the basis of mental capacities, such as empathy or theory of mind. They are accorded equally on the basis of sentience. A baby’s capacity to suffer, despite its lack of many higher capabilities, entitles it to the same fundamental rights as a brain surgeon.

    The baby does not have to demonstrate an equivalent or greater capacity to suffer. THAT it can suffer is sufficient. Suffering is the great leveller, between babies and brain surgeons, and between humans and other sentient animals. Suffering is phenomenologically the same for brain surgeon, baby or mouse – all have the same desire to avoid it. Ethics is all about making non-discriminatory, non-self-serving, decisions on how best to respect this desire in others.

    There are various approaches to this of course but, when considering vivisection, the best one might be this simple question: “Is the research issue so important that it would justify the sacrifice of babies to find a solution?” If the answer is no, then the just ethical conclusion has to be that no other non-consenting beings should be sacrificed either. If the answer is yes, go for it.

    • If suffering were the only point of ethical importance then surely humans have a duty to prevent animals killing other animals in the wild.

      • Some utilitarians do indeed say we should reduce wild animal suffering. Some would ofcourse claim that is impossible and therfore absurd, but then it might also be impossible to prevent all disease in humans, at least now. Just because something is impossible, does not mean that it would not be better to do our best. Perfection is often impossible, but to use that to reject an argument would be the nirvana fallacy.

        On the other hand, others say that we are only responsibly for the suffering we cause not that we merely let happen. So we have a obligation not to kill, but we are not obliged to give all our money to charity to save lives.

        • Juan Carlos Marvizon

          To eliminate the killing of herbivores by carnivores would completely wreak havoc on all of Earth’s environments. It would mean the extinction of all carnivore species and, in the long run, most of herbivores as well. These are worse evils than the suffering of animals that are killed by other animals that prey on them. Your post is a fine example of how vegan/animal rights ideas are fundamentally incompatible with environmentalism.

          • I don think that is fair at all, and I find your last sentence quite irritating in its obtuseness. Vegan utilitarians are not ignorant of the the fact there exists no way to currently stop all killing of herbivores. Nor are they unaware that there would be unintended consequences. Such a vegan utilitarian would therefore agree with you, causing more harm by interfering in wild animal suffering could indeed be counter productive and therefore not justified.

            And again as I said, a rights based vegan might not support a duty to stop wild animal suffering at all given people like Tom Regan make the argument that we are only really responsible for the suffering we cause and not that we merely let happen. Please stop with the strawmen, the vegans that do advocate large scale intervention in wild animal suffering (which is certainly not all of them) are fully aware of the problems you raise. They see such intervention as something to be done incrementally and with care. That could start with for example contraceptive darting of deer instead of shooting them.

            As for writing vegan ideas are “fundamentally incompatible with environmentalism”?!! what a joke! A vegan diet is the best way to ensure we dont cause any further deforestation. It uses just a fraction of the land and a fraction of the GHG emissions. http://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms11382
            http://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146

    • Juan Carlos Marvizon

      You say:

      This is not true for several reasons. First, when we talk about rights we are not only talking about the right to life and the right not to suffer, but also about the right to be free, the right not to be used for somebody’s else goals, etc. In fact, these are precisely the rights that the animal rights proponents want to give animals. Then the question of whether animals have the mental capacities to know that they are free or to care about whether they are being used are completely relevant. Second, the way we treat a being is also determined by the intrinsic value we give to that being. For example, a species has an intrinsic value, so when a species goes extinct this means a terrible loss, it is a deep moral wrong independent of the suffering of the animals in that species. Humans deserve respect not just because they suffer, but because of their intrinsic value. And that intrinsic value is based on our rich mental lives, our ability not just to suffer but also to be happy, to enjoy beauty, to find meaning in our lives. Therefore, mental capacities beyond the ability to suffer or to think intelligently are fundamental. It’s not just about humans, the same reasoning is used to give a dog more intrinsic value than the fleas that it carries in its fur.

      But even if we accept your narrow framing that suffering is the only relevant question, let me point out that suffering does not exist in isolation of all other mental functions. Suffering and pain are very different things. In particular, there cannot be suffering without consciousness because if there is no subjective awareness of the suffering, then it is not taking place. Also, suffering, like happiness, acquires a deeper meaning for beings like us that can put it in a context of a life with a past and a future, in the middle of a society and a culture that creates a much richer context for any of our experiences.

      Ultimately, the thing that worries me the most about the whole animal rights movement is how it has come to degrade the idea of what it means to be human by making us equals to animals. It has done that not by elevating the animals to human status, but by degrading humans to animal status. By denying the valuable things about being human. It’s a form of misanthropy, a radical anti-Humanism.

    • Juan Carlos Marvizon

      Somehow, my quote to you got deleted at the beginning of my response. I was responding to this:

      The only psychological question that is logically relevant to the animal rights debate is “can they suffer?” The ‘higher’ mental capacities are mostly red herrings.

  7. Even assuming everything in your article is correct, how does that entitle humans to be treated better than animals?

  8. A very small nitpicky philosopher’s point regarding your claim that empathy requires “a theory of mind,” and then a much larger point about “theories of mind” and empathy.

    The nitpicky point first. When philosophers talk about “a theory” of mind, we usually have in mind a theory of the sort of thing “the” mind is. Thus behaviorism is a theory of mind of a sort, the idea that mind is just the set of a creature’s observable behaviors and nothing inside the head matters at all, as is its cousin functionalism, that there are systematic internal pathways such as representations or “qualia” (the averse character of bad pain is a standard example” that translate sensory inputs into behavioral outputs.

    I don’t think empathy requires any such theory or that most people who aren’t philosophers, and maybe aren’t philosophers of mind, have such a theory. I don’t think you disagree and I don’t think that’s what you meant to say when you said that empathy requires a theory of mind.

    I think what you meant was that it requires the ability to form a theory of another person’s mind, to view the person as a creature like oneself with roughly similar psychological capabilities but not a mere mirror image, and then to have a view about how things seem to thus other person given her particular psychological set, to view things from that person’s point of view, with the implicit understanding that other people have points of view that often differ from our own.

    Now the big important point. I think the capacity you identify is real, and it may be a reason to treat humans better than animals, but I don’t think it’s empathy. A torturer can have this grasp of another’s psychology, and a capable one will, to know his victim’s breaking point, as will a psychological sadist who knows what buttons to push to cause someone mental anguish. Less horrifically, an anthropologist or certain sort of journalist needs these capabilities to understand the behavior and feelings of people to whom she may be indifferent, or even hostile, or cares no more about the other than she cares about any human being.

    I think empathy is related to compassion, to seeing and feeling sympathetically, a kind of mirroring of the feelings and perspectives that one might not oneself, apart from the interaction, have at all. It involves caring that the other person is fearful or hurt, or happy and delighted, even though the things that frighten, hurt, delight the other are not necessarily the ones that frighten, hurt, delight you. So it’s a capability of forming a theory of another’s mind and sharing it in a caring way, so that at least temporarily and maybe more than that while and after one feels empathetically, one not only sees things from the other’s perspective but shares it in a way that matters positively. And this is a different capability and much more morally significant. It may in a sense be the basis of morality. That’s a big claim and a big topic, but I just wanted to note that this ability to have this kind of theory of another’s mind is a particular and different thing.

    If empathy so understood is something like the basis of morality, it might be very important in explaining why humans are entitled to more consideration than animals. It’s not the whole story: the severely menrally disabled and people with extreme cases of autism or antisocial personality disorder seem, we think, to be entitled to equal concern and respect even if they are incapable of empathy. But our ability to see things from their point of view and care about how things seem and feel to them must be large part of their claim to our concern and respect.

    Btw the philosophers who are best on this include Hegel in his theory of self-consciousness and people in his broad tradition, such as Sartre.

    I don’t know enough animal psychology to know if there’s any evidence that some animals have this capability to some extent. Since I don’t believe in dualisms, I would be surprised if there were a continuum, with cockroaches having almost none, lizards more, rats and cats more still, dogs and pigs a fair amount, chimpanzees quite a lot. But this is pure speculation on my part.

    (I’m a former philosophy prof who used to work in philosophy of mind a long time ago, now a lawyer, in case people are puzzled by my website.)

    • Juan Carlos Marvizon

      To your first point, “Theory of mind”, often abbreviated “TOM” is a phrase that has been used in cognitive neuroscience for many years to denote the ability that humans have of making a representation of another person’s mind inside their own mind. It’s a very rich research field, with important discoveries like that of the “mirror neurons” and the role of the right anterior insular in modelling internal body states. Of course, adopting this particular expression creates confusion with the theories of mind elaborated by philosophers and scientists, which are theories in the scientific sense of the word. In my article I use the first meaning, which is not my own choice but a long-established convention.

      Your second point is much more interesting. Current thinking is that theory of mind, empathy and compassion are three different things. In fact, there may be two different forms of empathy. It has long been known that animals like rats, when exposed to cries of distress of other rats, become distressed themselves. However, this is an automatic physiological reaction similar to our visceral reaction when we are exposed to gore, like the sight of disemboweled or mutilated bodies. Another kind of empathy is felt by humans by imagining how the other person is feeling. That is, we re-create the other person’s suffering of happiness inside our own mind. Obviously, this requires TOM because otherwise we would not be able to have a representation of the other person’s mental state.

      What about compassion? I recently attended the International Symposium of Contemplative Science, where they presented studies on the interaction between science, the humanities and contemplative religions like Buddhism. They made a big deal about the difference between empathy and compassion. In particular, I had an interesting conversation with the famous Tibetan Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard (http://www.matthieuricard.org/en/) about this. He remarked that empathy leads to distress in care-givers, whereas compassion can relive that stress. Whereas empathy is a immediate reaction, compassion is a long-term, culturally-based state of mind that can be learned and developed.

      As for torturers and cruel people, some of them may be psychopaths with a blunted ability for empathy. Others do feel empathy and ultimately pay a price for their actions by developing neuroses.

  9. Suppose through further evolution, humanity split into two species with very different characteristics. Or, if you just can’t accept this thought experiment because you know too much about evolutionary biology to do so, instead imagine we run into aliens from outer space and substitute them for species B. So – species A looks like us today, with some minor differences in, say, skin pigmentation, physical strength etc. Basically, species A is us. Members of species B not only possess far greater intelligence on average (let’s say IQ of >200) but also capabilities that are completely absent in species A. For example they have a form of telepathy that lets them know 100% exactly what another member of their species feels, if they wish to know. Thus, if one person suffers greatly, their suffering is the suffering of anyone else tuning in. Because of this, their morality has evolved in ways species B cannot understand. In many ways it seems that species A don’t have any morality anymore because they don’t need it. Instead the way their species operates resembles more one large organism rather than a collection of individuals. Also, they can visualize, even “see” in five dimensions. Also, it turns out there is something like a soul, and they are capable of communing with the souls of the deceased. What happens when they do that is beyond our understanding.

    So – should species B assume the moral right to use species A for food, scientific experiments etc? Should species A be excluded from any moral or legal rights that species B accord to themselves, even rights that obviously matter to species A (although perhaps not in the sophisticated ways that those rights matter to members of species B)?

    • Sorry, I switched A and B in the middle there and can’t edit to correct that. But I think my meaning is clear anyway.

    • Juan Carlos Marvizon

      I think what would happen in that scenario is that species A (lower cognitive faculties) will still be able to advocate their interests to species B (higher cognition). If species B has any sort of morality similar to ours, it would protect those interests. However, species B may have some interests and rights that and are completely incomprehensible to species A, those would not be granted because species B have no use for them.

      Now, comparing our human species to animals, not having episodic memory, theory of mind and extended consciousness, animals cannot comprehend interest and rights, much less advocate for them, so the analogy breaks there. We may attribute some interest to animals, like the interest of being free for pain, and protect those interests. But it is us doing it, it is not the animal.

      • The analogy may break down in that way but I’m not convinced that that is important. (By the way, one could also construct the analogy further to include aspects which species A can not appreciate at all but which nevertheless affect their interests; should species B feel free to ignore this since species A cannot fully understand what’s happening, even if this unspecified aspect has the the potential to cause species A suffering?) All mammals and birds at least can suffer. Most AR advocates consider it prudent to extend the benefit of doubt to all vertebrates and to any other species (such as octopus) where the nervous system present may endow them with that capacity. It doesn’t matter whether they can suffer as much as humans, or in the ways of humans. It is enough that they can suffer in their own ways. They have an interest in avoiding that suffering, and that is morally relevant.

        I have also read your other post about animal suffering but am still uncertain what your overall position regarding the use of animals is. You are very clear in that you support animal testing for medical purposes but you are less clear on what your position is regarding raising and killing animals for food. Even Peter Singer does not object to animal testing as long as it is really necessary to make advances that may greatly reduce suffering among humans and other animals.

        My own view is that testing can be justified in reasonable ways. Raising animals for food, especially in developed countries, cannot. It is solely done out of convention and for the pleasure of our palates. Raising animals for food is frivolous, using them in medical experiments is not, or at least doesn’t have to be.

        What is your view?

        • Juan Carlos Marvizon

          Here is my response to a similar question in Reddit:

          “The whole argument against eating animals is predicated on the idea that killing an animal is morally wrong. However, this is not as obvious as it may seem. Death is part of life and all animals inevitably die. So the moral wrong would be for them to die “before their time”. However, few animals in the wild live to old age, most are victims of predators, accidents or disease. So when we raise animals to be killed for food or any other purpose, we are not depriving them of anything that they had before, or “have a right to”. Therefore, the killing in itself is not morally wrong. Making them suffer is a different story. But, in fact, animals used in scientific research suffer much less than they would in the wild, because they have ready access to food and water, are sheltered from predation, and are killed painlessly. Ideally, the same thing would be done for animals raised for food, and I believe much progress has been done in that regard despite the exaggerated claims of animal right activists. The book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” offers a quite a bit of information and thought about using animals for food.”

          • The argument that killing an animal is wrong is not just an assumption though, it is the conclusion of a logical argument. Appealing to what happens to nature however is just a logical fallacy. And as for saying its ok because they were bred for that purpose, we would not use that reason to justify such treatment of humans were we bred for such a purpose. As such all your arguments could equally be applied to humans, eg we suffer greatly and will eventually die ect ect. Yet all you offer to reject such a comparison is begging the question.

          • I think it’s hard to exaggerate the miserable conditions in which farmed animals live. New undercover videos surface with regular frequency showing things that must leave any decent human being in tears. What developments lead you to the belief that “much progress” has been made? As for the animal “rights” movement, I have the impression that you are only casually acquainted with its composition, schools of thought etc. The way you portray the movement is more a caricature than a realistic appreciation. As I mentioned, Singer, e.g. isn’t opposed to animal experiments in principle, and it would seem to me that someone in your position should try to make as much hay as possible out of that. Singer is actually an ally to you, not an opponent. David DeGrazia is one of the leading philosophers concerned with animal ethics, and his views, too, are in some ways compatible with your own.

            https://ethicslab.georgetown.edu/phil553/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/DeGrazia-2008.pdf

            In order to come to a realistic appreciation of the movement, you might want to turn your attention away from its shrillest elements toward those who are the thought leaders with views quite sympathetic to your core concern.

        • Juan Carlos Marvizon

          Axel, we have exposed here at Speaking of Research a number of bogus undercover videos made by animal rights activists at research facilities. The deceitful, immoral and often illegal way these people operate has become quite clear. They would go to any lengths to get the footage that they want, including distressing and abusing the animals to get a reaction from them. So I don’t trust any footage from animals farms, either. I grew up exposed to farm animals, so I know first hand that they don’t live the miserable life that animal right urbanites say they do.

          I have a limited time to live my life and I have no desire to use too much of it studying the animal rights movement and the particular ideas of its different factions. I have read and listened enough to Peter Singer to know that he’s no friend of mine and that I don’t agree with most of his ideas. In particular, I don’t think that Utilitarianism is a good way to approach morality. I also disagree with Singer’s justification of violence to achieve “animal liberation”. The article that you link to looks interesting, though. Thank you, I see if I can find a moment to read it. I just browsed through it to get its general gist. My main interest is not ethics per se, but the philosophy of neuroscience, particularly the question of what it means to be human. Once we have some hard data on the differences between human and animal minds, we would be in a better position to decide how different animal species should be treated, without falling in the trap of ambiguous concepts like “sentience”. In the meantime, I fully intend to keep enjoying my chicken broth and my steak, mostly because I think it would be arrogant of me to feel morally superior to the humans that have been eating animals since the beginning of our species, 250,000 years ago. Also, while I have some doubts on whether a chicken is conscious and therefore can suffer, I’m quite sure that it tastes delicious.

          • Humans, since the beginning of our species have also thought nothing of enslaving, raping, torturing and killing their fellow humans. That you would not want to feel morally superior to our ancestors beggars belief. In the last few hundred years, humanity as a whole has evolved morally to the point that those behaviors are no longer considered acceptable by most, and no philosopher would lend his support to them. We are making progress, and that is something we should be glad for. Whether our treatment of animals is the next big item on our moral agenda is what we are now beginning to seriously debate. Denial won’t work much longer.

            I grew up in rural Bavaria, surrounded by farms. I only saw farm animals that seemed to be treated relatively well. The proverbial pigs in mud, and those “happy” free range chickens that really were free range, sometimes not even a fence to keep them in place. For me to conclude that I therefore know exactly how animals are treated in factory farms around the world (where 99% of meat comes from) would be laughable. Your assertion to that effect does nothing to build your credibility.

            I note that you didn’t respond to my question regarding improvements in the treatment of farm animals. Here is one for you that holds real promise.

            http://www.politico.eu/article/french-parliament-votes-for-slaughterhouses-cameras/

            This flies in the face of your denials of the conditions farm animals have to endure. One or the other undercover video might have been illegitimately dramatized or been the result of unethical methods. However, your suggestion that therefore *all* undercover videos are unreliable is something that almost nobody will believe. The French legislature certainly didn’t. And if everything’s so dandy as you suggest, then I trust public live feeds from all animal factories, all slaughterhouses and all laboratories should be no problem, eh? Oh, but I understand the objection: the public doesn’t understand! These animals don’t suffer! Or at least not in the way we humans do!

            What your original article boils down to is that most non-human animals cannot suffer in all the ways we humans suffer and that their suffering is therefore less. And that therefore they don’t warrant the level of moral consideration humans do. On one hand, yes, this is an important point that needs to be better understood by the public. But on the other hand, nobody in the animal rights movement demands exactly equal treatment for non-human animals anyway. And even now, most people intuitively know that a pig suffers less than a human, a bee less than a pig, and an oyster yet less than a bee, or perhaps not at all. That doesn’t change the fact that at least mammals and probably birds do have the capability to suffer. That’s all that we really need to know for a meaningful moral discourse. I don’t get the impression that such a discourse is very important to you. You nicely sum it up yourself: the taste of chicken really trumps any moral consideration for it!

          • Appeal to tradition is a logical fallacy.

          • Juan Carlos Marvizon

            Alex, we seem to be in agreement in a few fundamental things. Please, keep in mind that as a member of Speaking of Research I have a commitment not to discuss veganism and other animal issues not related to animal research. We have an agreement no to do that because the position of our members on other animal uses is not uniform. That’s why my comments regarding eating animals are a bit flippant and not too much in depth.

            Let me address a few points you made. I think is safe to say that human enslavement and exploitation, and probably much rape and torture, started with the agrarian revolution 10,000 years ago. For the remaining 240,000 years of our evolution as an species there was probably murder and warfare, but not at the scale we saw during the 20th Century. Our ethical treatment of our fellow human beings still leave much to be desired. I think we should focus on that before we start worrying about mice and chickens. In fact, most people are focusing on that, and animal rights remain the concern of a few individuals in the upper and middle classes of a few developed countries. I don’t think it should be the next item in our moral agenda.

            I’m glad we are in agreement that using animals for research and using them as food are tow separate categories, with a stronger case for animal research.

            I think cameras in slaughter houses and animal research labs are a wonderful idea, and I have no problem with that. In fact, our IACUC has considered that. A lot of animal research is routinely videotaped as part of data acquisition. However, there is growing concern that the footage would be stolen by animal rights activists and then “creatively edited”. We are cautioned to treat any visual material as a security problem and to store it with utmost care. On the other hand, security cameras would also serve to discourage AR infiltrators because they will provide with evidence of what they are really doing in vivariums. I think it’s justa matter of time until the first animal rights infiltrator is charged for animal cruelty, as ironic as that may seem.

  10. Most examples of cognitive difference offered here are outdated. On Theory of Mind, for example, see the nice recent study by Krupenye et al. in Science, 2016, which leaves few differences standing.

    • Juan Carlos Marvizon

      Thank you for commenting to my article. I really enjoyed your book “Chimpanzee Politics” and frequently cite it in my talks. Also, thank you for providing that reference. It has been in the news lately and I searched for it when I was writing the article, but somehow I missed it. Instead, I cited Rilling et al. (2012), with some similar results. As I said in the article, it is unlikely that all those cognitive abilities that give us our humanity evolved in the relatively sort transition between our ape ancestors and humans (sort in the evolutionary scale). So it is not surprising finding them in the great apes, although not as developed as in humans. There is some fascinating work by BUD Craig illustrating the progressive development of the anterior insula from monkeys to the great apes to humans. Regarding theory of mind, it has been surprisingly hard to find in chimpanzees, as the article that you cite recognizes. I don’t think that apes will be found to have recurrent theory of mind (“I know that you know that I know”).

      What other of the cognitive differences that I cite are outdated? Have Damasio’s ideas on extended consciousness being refuted?

      Do you think there are fundamental differences in theory of mind, consciousness and the other cognitive abilities that I cite between apes and lower mammals (rodents, for example)?

  11. koalasarenotcool

    it is understandable for a human to think this way, not matter how illogical

  12. Juan Carlos Marvizon

    There is a lively and interesting discussion on this article on Reddit

  13. Is it just or ethical for the powerful to abuse the weak or less developed for their own gain? If honor has value, wouldn’t it be more honorable to take a position of able protectors of those species?

  14. That’s the way to convince people that for scientists, using animals in biomedical research is a necessary evil: we do have ethics, let’s start not using it.

    • Surely everybody now will think “animal research is necessary, I will stop to disagree with you”, right? I’m waiting for Frans de Waal to read this.
      Meanwhile: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofpZoqD1_X0

      • Juan Carlos Marvizon

        I would be much honored if Frans de Waal commented on my article. But, although we may disagree about the use of chimps in research, I don’t think he defends the animal rights position.

      • Juan Carlos Marvizon

        Thanks for the video! I know Peggy Mason personally and she is very cool. She does research on pain neuroscience, just like I do. The video shows an example of the cool things we can learn from animal research. Yes, rats and other social mammals display some amazing forms of altruism. Still, this doesn’t show that they have theory of mind, extended consciousness, etc. It doesn’t even show that they have compassion, as this behavior is probably stereotypical and not based on modelling the other animal’s mental state.

      • Well, thing is that Frans De Waal probably doesn’t defend “the animal rights” (…) position, but I think he might have something to say about these nine points. It’s not a matter of animal rights positions. I am not an animal rights activist. But no animal sympathizer might be “converted” to the cause with a speech like this. It would only make opinions polarized.

        There is a lot of experimental data about animals and intelligence or empathy. Ravens have theory of mind (or something really similar!), chimps, ravens, whales have a language and also some sort of “dialects”, which they can even learn when changing group! They have also episodical memory, that was found by Konrad Lorenz in ravens (!) and then in other species; elephants, mice and rats, dogs, as ALL the social animals (like us) have empathy, and so on. Mirror neurons, I was forgotting to mention them. Rizzolatti is a neuroscientist and produced good datas.
        What about the Cambridge declaration? Neuroscientists, again.
        The difference is more in quantity, than in quality.

        I’m not saying that they are as smart as us.
        “this behavior is probably stereotypical” is not true: again, experimental data; if it’s an “instinct” for rats (and elephants, dogs, and so on) it’s the same for our big neotenic ape. Empathy is nothing but an evolutionary strategy adapted in social animals: group selection.
        Again: difference is in quantity, not quality.
        If we make the hypothesis that animals don’t really suffer like us, why there are ethical commissions, felasa, animal welfare laws, humane endpoint and so on? Scientists at first are concerned on animal suffering.
        Luckily there are scientist and biologists working in lab, who are not only philosophers.
        These are NOT arguments that I would use to justify the use of animals in biomedical research. Humankind has ethics, piety with the weak and those claimed to be “inferiors”. So, we have to use our noble features or not?
        We have to do it, it’s a necessary, horrible evil, not because the others are cartesian organic machines (false) but because we are the most cognitive animals, the only species that can solve these problems, and we do it for a greater good, for the good of a larger amount of creatures. We are both trying to improve wellness for animals and to defeat diseases. The 3 R laws are a stimulating factor for this. This is the reason, putting ourselves “upon” all other living beings is dead, evolutionists, biologists, neuroscientists, ethologists, say that. It’s also really subjective to say that one species is superior for a particular characteristics. Theropoda survived for 200 mil of years and colonized almost all habitats developing a lot of biodiversity from their bauplan, they are still alive in the form of birds, their time, evolutionary, biological success might be seen as superior to ours if we change comparison terms. Tardygrada don’t care about our intelligence, as they live in their niche resisting to conditions which are hostile for us. It’s a subjective thing if we put more value to intelligence, because it’s the skill that define ourselves, but it’s not a universal value for animals. We are superior to tardygrades in intelligence as they are superior to us in resistance to radiations or temperature.

        Arguments like this one, on a scientific website about animal research, a place where medical researchers speak, might increase the distance between scientists and those who ask for animal care and dignity. Only those who already agree will… agree.

  15. leonardohenriquemachado

    Everytime we try to base the success of another spiece on how similar they are to us, we humans will seems always to be more successful. I could list here thousands of characteristics that only animais have, or have it in a greater degree than us. We keep on electing our cognition as the only moral baseline. Animals strive for freedom and life. If you try to take their freedom, or if you try to hurt or kill an animal he will surely try to defend himself. Why keep talking about how different they are from us when all those difference don’t matter? “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”. In some way they do suffer like we do. The well-fare movement is just postponing what is evident. We can live without animals most of time but we decided not to, just because they taste good.

    • Juan Carlos Marvizon

      But suffering depends on cognition, it does not happen independently of the other functions of the brain. Do plants suffer? Do sponges suffer? Do insects suffer? Do mice suffer? How can you tell? In what are you going to base your determination?

      • Are you saying that between a sponge (no brain at all) and a rat (CNS) you dont’t see any difference?

        And in your opinion, why scientists are so concerned on animal suffering?

        http://www.lal.org.uk/uploads/editor/HEP_SCHARMANN.pdf

        • Juan Carlos Marvizon

          Quite the opposite: I see a big difference between a sponge and a rat. You seem to have missed this part of my article:

          “Another important idea is that there are vast differences in the mental abilities of animals and, therefore, in the way they should be treated. Many animals, like jellyfish, worms and clams, do not have any mental capabilities at all, do not feel pain, and can be treated the same as plants. In the other side of the mental spectrum, it is possible that we will find that the great apes, dolphins and elephants have some form of theory of mind and extended consciousness, and therefore deserve a special treatment compared to other animals.”

          • You told:
            “Do mice suffer? How can you tell?”
            And first:
            “They are like plants: living beings able to react to the environment as automatons. That leaves a lot of animals for which it is hard to guess whether they are conscious or not: insects, fish, octopi, lizards and small mammals like mice and rats.”

            Muridae, not apes, dolphins and elephants.

            I think people asked you for Cambridge declaration of consciousness 10 times:

            We declare the following: “The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism fromexperiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

            Again, what do you think about what “a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists” told us?

          • The Cambridge Declaration is a strange thing. I plan to write an article dedicated to it, since it would be too complicated to addressed in a comment. In any case, it was not signed by neurocientists and the scientific community has largely ignore it. Which I think is the best thing to do with animal rights publicity stunts like that.

          • http://fcmconference.org/img/CambridgeDeclarationOnConsciousness.pdf

            David Edelman (Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla), Philip Low (Stanford University) Christof Koch (California Institute of Technology).
            Neuroscientists.

            It’s not matter of animal rights, i think we have to use animals in research; the point is to deny that they suffer, or to say that their suffering is irrelevant for us because we are the only consciuos animals (!) or because they are “inferior” living beings.
            We do have ethics, so we don’t use it: cool.

          • Ah, and PS – Scientists are very concerned on animal suffering. Humane endpoint, animal welfare science, Felasa …

        • Juan Carlos Marvizon

          Please point out the place in the article where I say that animals do not suffer, that they are not conscious, that their suffering is irrelevant or that their suffering does not matter. I was very careful not say these things. What I say is that SOME animals do not have these abilities.

          • You told: “Do mice suffer? How can you tell?”
            Then, you put mice between “automatons”, animals able to react to the environment like plants.
            I ask you again: if mice are between those animals, why are researchers so concerned on mice and rats distress and suffering?

      • No matter where you draw your senciente line, pig, cow, chicken and fish are certainly above it. So are mice. Otherwise, how would you justify the fact that science is using them for so long to test all kind of medicine, even pain killers?

        • They don’t really feel pain, it’s an automatic, mechanical (and behavioural) response (cit. René Descartes).

          • So you are basing on Descartes? I am afraid you are 400 years behind in science. So, animals who have every body structure to feel pain in the same way we do, just don’t feel it because they don’t reason or talk? They have eye to see, mouth to taste, ear to hear and we should believe that their nervous system is inactive? I agree that pain is subjective. Some feel more pain and some feel less pain (it happens even between us, humans). But animals react exactly as we do under certain painful circumstances: they scream, they became agitated, the show defensive reactions, the try to run away, the have muscle tremors, they have dilation of the pupilla, the salivate, the urinate, their blood pressure increases, their heart frequency increases, they have involuntary defecation, their breath frequency increases, they sweat… well everything exactly like us and you do believe that they aren’t feeling anything? How can science be against their own observations? And how can you test pain-killers on animals if they don’t care about pain? Have you read the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness?

        • “They are like plants: living beings able to react to the environment as automatons. That leaves a lot of animals for which it is hard to guess whether they are conscious or not: insects, fish, octopi, lizards and small mammals like mice and rats.”
          I’m sarcastic.

          • So, if you get a human being who cannot talk or express his feelings in any way and provoke pain on him, he would react as an automaton? How do you prove that he is feeling pain? I would observe his reactions and compare to mine. But, when we cross the species barrier this approach seems to be illogical. The same structure, the reaction, and a quite different conclusion. Sorry, that is to much brain exercise to prove a negative situation.

          • Juan Carlos Marvizon

            This is an old trick: to completely change the meaning of what I said but quoting only part of it. The full quotation is:

            “On the other hand, unless we invoke some mystical definition of consciousness, it is safe to assume that animals with small nervous systems, like jellyfish, worms, starfish, snails and clams have no consciousness whatsoever. They are like plants: living beings able to react to the environment as automatons. That leaves a lot of animals for which it is hard to guess whether they are conscious or not: insects, fish, octopi, lizards and small mammals like mice and rats.”

            So what I’m saying is that some animals (jellyfish,etc.) are not conscious. Some others may be, nobody knows. I doubt that you or the scientists that wrote the Cambridge Declaration have solved the problem of consciousness. Edelman and Koch took a shot at it, but I doubt that they are arrogant enough to say that they have. So, until we solve that problem, we cannot tell for sure that an animal is conscious. We simply do not know.

    • Juan Carlos Marvizon

      I address the issue of animal suffering (and answer Bentham’s question) is this other article:
      https://speakingofresearch.com/2015/01/12/the-uniqueness-of-human-suffering-suffering-from-pain/

  16. Noah its pretty simple really. Don’t agree with animal testing? Don’t use medications or products that have been tested on animals. Some of us choose to take medications because we want to get better if we are sick or god forbid be cured of a life threatening illness. So unless you can specify which forms of animals testing are unnecessary and what testing can actually replace it then no one is interested in your opinion which comes across as the inane unresearched rhetoric of the AR cult.

  17. While the above examples are abilities that most animals do not have, I do not believe it is an excuse to allow forms of animal testing that harm the animal. Higher thought and more emotions do not make humans necessarily “better” or more deserving of life than animals. Human life is ultimently important to us but it is important that animal life is not discarded as a result, as it is possible to care for both. I don’t think it is fair to compare a pet dog to a tick, since the owner will value the life of the pet they care for over an unfamiliar creature. This does not mean the tick’s life is worthless, however, but the needs of the dog, in this situation, outneed that of the tick’s. Finally, plants, despite having nervous systems, do not show cognitive abilities to think or show emotion, unlike animals, and thus do not need the same rights as animals. Of course that does not mean plants should be destroyed or cut down because of that, since they are extremely useful for all animals including us.

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