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How would we go about testing this? If we one day discover a non-human animal which does use concepts, what implication(s), if any, would this have with regard to animal rights?

I thought this was already asked somewhere, but if so I can't find it. All three questions are important, but they are related enough I thought I should keep them together.

For the second question, I definitely think it is going to involve looking at animal use of language. Rand has said that "without concepts, there can be no language". One might look to this and close the case. There are many species of non-human animals which use "language". But I'm not convinced that this isn't an equivocation. On Wikipedia there is a comment that "animal language" should not be confused with "animal communication", and the only examples I can think of probably fit under "animal communication" and not "animal language".

The second question is probably too large of a topic to answer in detail. It's probably even too large of a topic for me as a non-expert to expect to understand. However, I'll ask, and we'll see what we get.

asked Jul 24 '12 at 08:48

anthony's gravatar image

anthony
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edited Nov 15 '12 at 11:28

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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Studies of concept formation by stumptailed monkeys: Concepts humans, monkeys, and letter A.. Schrier, Allan M.; Angarella, Ronald; Povar, Morris L. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, Vol 10(4), Oct 1984, 564-584. doi: 10.1037/0097-7403.10.4.564

(Jul 24 '12 at 08:58) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

Dev Psychobiol. 2008 Apr;50(3):278-87. Development of object concepts in macaque monkeys. Hall-Haro C, Johnson SP, Price TA, Vance JA, Kiorpes L. Source Center for Neural Science, New York University, 4 Washington Place, Room 809, New York, NY 10003, USA.

(Jul 24 '12 at 09:18) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

ScienceDaily (Apr. 20, 2007) — New research from Columbia's Primate Cognition Laboratory has demonstrated for the first time that monkeys could acquire meta-cognitive skills: the ability to reflect about their thoughts and to assess their performance.

(Jul 24 '12 at 09:28) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

ScienceDaily (Jan. 23, 2003) — DURHAM, N.C. -- Psychologists have found evidence that monkeys have sophisticated abilities to acquire and apply knowledge using some of the same strategies as do humans. Specifically, the researchers have discovered that rhesus monkeys can learn the correct order of arbitrary sets of images and can apply that knowledge to answer new questions about that order.

(Jul 24 '12 at 09:34) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

ScienceDaily (Aug. 2, 2007) — Monkeys seem to learn the same way humans do, a new research study indicates.

(Jul 24 '12 at 09:35) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image
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In March 2012, I discussed animal cognition issues in some detail on this website in answer to the question, "Do Objectivists take the position that animals do not have free will?" (Link). There were some specific references on animal cognition cited in that thread, which I checked out and discussed. I will also be interested to know if the same criticisms also apply to the references cited in this thread so far. (I have not had time so far to try to check the current references myself. It would help if the commenter who cited those references could also provide weblinks if available.)

Here are some specific issues to consider:

  • Do animal cognition researchers claim that animals can form at least some rudimentary concepts just as man does? If so, how can animals do that without language, either spoken language or audible sounds or sign language of some kind? (True language, not just approximate communication of percepts or states of agitation or contentment -- as the question points out.)

  • Do animal cognition researchers use the term "concept" in the same way that Objectivism uses it? How does their understanding and usage of "concept" compare and contrast with the Objectivist understanding of it?

  • Do animal cognition researchers understand the phenomena of "perceptual association" and "perceptual generalization," and how those processes differ from concept formation?

  • Do animal cognition researchers claim that identifications such as the following can apply to non-human animals:

(a) "The function of your stomach, lungs or heart is automatic; the function of your mind is not. In any hour and issue of your life, you are free to think or to evade that effort. But you are not free to escape from your nature, from the fact that reason is your means of survival—so that for you, who are a human being, the question 'to be or not to be' is the question 'to think or not to think.'" (Quoted from Galt's Speech in Atlas Shrugged.)

(b) Man can form abstractions from lower-level abstractions, i.e., integrate previously formed concepts into wider concepts having a higher level of abstraction (greater distance from direct perception) than the previous concepts.

(c) Man makes tools of all kinds, with increasing levels of complexity and power; man also makes fire and uses it for cooking, warmth and other purposes; man man also creates artistic artifacts of all kinds, including paintings on the walls of caves, on pottery (which is itself man-made) and elsewhere. Man creates musical sounds and entire compositions that go far beyond mere "chirping" of birds, crickets, and the like, or calls by wolves, elephants, whales, and so on. Man uses clothing for warmth and other protection from nature; he uses vehicles for transportation, including vehicles with wheels, vehicles that fly, and vehicles that swim.

(d) Man knows math and science, and how to employ such knowledge in technology and industry. He constructs buildings, including skyscrapers, not just tunnels in the ground or piles of mud or sticks.

(e) Man can learn the concept of "rights"; he can respect the rights of others, and he needs recognition and protection of his rights in order to live. Rights have no meaning or applicability in the lives of other animals.

Considering the vast scale of man's intellectual capacity compared to any other animal, it is almost irrelevant to be particularly excited about any concept-like similarities to animal cognition -- or to suggest that the concept of rights could be applicable to (or understood by) any other animal. (Newborn human infants cannot understand the concept of rights, either, in the beginning, but they still need at least the protection of their right to life, even if they are far too young to exercise and benefit from other rights such as the right to liberty, property, freedom of speech and association, the right to vote, to assemble peacefully and petition the government for redress of grievances, etc. The issue of why newborn humans have a right to life while other animals and unborn fetuses do not is a key differentiator in understanding rights in general.)

Update: Perception and Concepts

The Google suggestion by orb8 in the comments has proven to be a good one, allowing me to find and peruse orb8's references on animal cognition fairly easily and quickly. (One reference apparently requires payment of a fee to get the complete paper, but I was able to read the abstract without having to buy anything.) I also checked the reference on Orcas. What I found in all these references can be summed up as follows:

(a) The feats that many animals are capable of performing, with or without extensive training by man, are often quite impressive by man's standards of perceptual functioning. Man certainly would not be able to do all those tasks by trying to function entirely on the perceptual level, without benefit of concepts (possibly aided by technology based on man's concepts). It may be easy to assume, therefore, that the animals must be using concepts, as man does. Yet it is also striking that none of these animal observations have ever succeeded (as far as I know) in simply asking an animal what it "thinks" and having it explain itself to humans. One simply can't do that with animals. One can only construct sophisticated experiments involving a lot of often ingenious stimulus-response-reward conditioning followed by some kind of test, or sometimes just observing what animals do naturally in the wild (as with the Orcas). Observers all too often seem to have a very minimal view of both perception and concepts, treating perception as a simple, mirror-like process, and likewise treating conceptual functioning as rudimentary and limited, too, in its most basic, concrete-centered forms.

(b) Objectivism, however, points out that there is vastly more to conceptual functioning than animal cognition observers may be assuming. Historically, of course, the whole field of philosophy has offered little insight on the nature of concepts in man. Ayn Rand's work on human concepts is still very new historically and poorly understood. Observers such as obr8 can readily come along and pick out specific statements, apply conventional assumptions about the nature of concepts, and conclude that Objectivist claims about the limitations of animal cognition are mistaken. It is clear to me, however, from the extensive Objectivist materials available today on the nature of concepts in man, that the critics of Objectivism are wrong. They have not understood the Objectivist view of human concepts at all. To animal cognition observers and human cognition observers alike, therefore, I would offer the following basic principle:

Never underestimate the power of the perceptual level of cognition in animals that are constituted to live on that level in a correspondingly conducive habitat. The perceptual level is more effective for those animals than man may have hitherto assumed. Both the recent experiments and the vast array of past observations of animals historically have amply demonstrated this. Those observations do not demonstrate, however, that animals are using human concepts, or functioning on a conceptual level at all, as that form of cognition is understood by man.

There is extensive material in the literature of Objectivism on concept-formation and conceptual functioning in man, especially Ayn Rand's book, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology (ITOE), Expanded Second Edition. There is also a whole chaper on "Concept Formation" in OPAR. For an overview, one can start with the following entries in The Ayn Rand Lexicon:

  • Concept-Formation; Concepts; Conceptual Common Denominator (eight and a half pages).
  • Unit; Unit-Economy (two pages).
  • Reason (nearly four pages).
  • Similarity; Perception; Knowledge; Learning; Automatization.
  • Measurement (relating to the process of measurement-omission in concept formation).
  • Integration (Mental); Abstraction (Process of); Abstractions and Concretes.
  • Language; Meaning (of Concepts)

The topic of "Crow-Epistemology" redirects the reader to "Unit-Economy," and the connection to crows is explained in ITOE. Anyone seriously seeking to challenge Objectivism on the nature of concepts will need to become thoroughly familiar with all of this material, and will need to show that he understands it. One cannot take small fragments of it, apply conventional definitions of terms (which may be woefully inadequate and confused), and decide that Objectivism is wrong.

At a high level, my original answer indicates some of the questions that should be asked about animal cognition when comparing it to human conceptual cognition. Within the category of Objectivist identifications, one should also ask: where or how do animals demonstrate that they can perform measurement omission and isolate specific characteristics involved in similarity, apart from the specific measurements of those characteristics? Where or how do animals demonstrate that they can assign a visual-auditory symbol of some kind to a mental integration and then treat it as a concrete existent in further conceptualization? Where or how do animals demonstrate that they explicitly regard concretes as units of a type or kind?

Regarding this last, animals surely do perceive entities of different kinds and react differently depending on the kind of entity they are perceiving. The key issue is whether that really proves that they have reached the stage of treating existents as units, or are merely perceiving the existents as they are and reacting automatically to what they can perceive. Since animals other than man have not, so far, been observed assigning visual-auditory symbols to groupings of concretes, man can quite logically conclude that animals are doing what they do entirely perceptually, without benefit of human-like concepts.

Regarding visual-auditory symbols, there have been impressive experiments in trying to teach sign language to chimps and porpoises, but it still remains unclear that the animals actually understand the signs as symbols for types or kinds of concretes. It seems more likely from the evidence that the animals are merely associating the symbol perceptually with a line of concretes which they have observed in the past and which are similar to each other, and then searching for perceptually similar new concretes in their habitat when instructed to do so by human trainers.

A casual observer might assume that a concept is nothing more than an arbitrary grouping of concretes, with some kind of name or identifying symbol assigned to the group. But that is a grossly deficient view of how man forms and uses concepts. For example, does such a group include only the particular members that were used to form the group? What about new concretes that man observes later? Should they be included in the group, too, if they are sufficiently similar to the existing members? What does "sufficiently similar" mean? Why is similarity needed at all? What kind of similarity should be adopted as one's criterion for group inclusion or exclusion, and why? And so on. Objectivism deals with all these issues and many more.

Nonhuman animals, in contrast, merely perceive. This includes remembering and perceptually associating according to perceived similarity. There is no demonstrable process of measurement omission and abstraction in what they do. Animals (other than man) do not, so far as we know from all available evidence, go beyond their perceptions of similarities to isolate essential distinguishing characteristics and integrate concretes into abstract mental groupings which can then be used like concretes in still more abstract mental groupings. Like man, animals can perceive similarities and perceptually associate remembered concretes acccording to perceived similarities. But they can't go any further than that, as man does with measurement omission and abstraction.

One does not need concepts in order to perceive similarities between concretes; on the contrary, the similarities have to be perceived first, before man can form and apply concepts. Likewise, one does not need concepts in order to remember a number of concretes that are all very similar to each other, and then recognize that a new concrete is also very similar to the others. All of that can be done entirely perceptually, without concepts, though not with the same degree of precision and subtlety that man's concepts enable in man. This aspect of perception may be very unfamiliar to man because man has such enormous capacity to shift into conceptual cognition so easily. Again, understanding the full scope of how man forms and uses concepts requires careful study of the whole range of Objectivist materials that I noted above.

Man can also approximate the perceptual (non-conceptual) mode of cognition simply by going out of focus:

Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality—or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.

When man unfocuses his mind, he may be said to be conscious in a subhuman sense of the word, since he experiences sensations and perceptions.

(From VOS, excerpted in "Free Will" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.)

Animals do that automatically, and it works well for them in correspondingly conducive habitats (they have no capacity to do otherwise). But it doesn't work well at all for man. Man needs concepts.

answered Jul 24 '12 at 21:56

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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edited Jul 26 '12 at 15:43

If you enter any of the titles above into Google, the articles will come up 1st in the organic listings, so you shouldn't need the URLs. I didn't add them because I wasn't sure whether such linking is allowed here (due to spam links). There are dozens more studies, many of them offered in PDF format.

(Jul 24 '12 at 23:17) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

I believe that a number of these modern primate studies indicate that Rand was incorrect in this statement:

"Reason integrates man’s perceptions by means of forming abstractions or conceptions, thus raising man’s knowledge from the perceptual level, which he shares with animals, to the conceptual level, which he alone can reach. The method which reason employs in this process is logic—and logic is the art of non-contradictory identification." (from Philosophy: Who Needs It)

(Jul 24 '12 at 23:43) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

Can you be more specific? Are you sure you understand how Rand used the terms "percept" and "concept"?

(Jul 26 '12 at 08:32) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Have you read the studies above? Do you suggest that the researchers' work regarding concept formation in other animals has concept defined in a way that is clearly different?

(Jul 26 '12 at 09:53) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

No, I haven't read them.

(Jul 26 '12 at 10:20) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Even if we allow that some animals other than humans use some concepts, there is no question that the extent to which humans use concepts far outstrips what any non-human animal achieves.

In the answer written by Ideas for Life, his lettered examples are just some of the many ways in which man makes extensive use of concepts.

This extent is so great, that these ways in which man uses concepts, taken together, emerge as a new way of survival which only Man has. Concepts are, for man, essential to how he lives.

Animals do not use concepts to survive. As far as I know, any animals which might be considered to use concepts do so to entertain researchers who wish to obliterate the essential differentiation between humans and other species.

So, it's not whether animals can use concepts (I'm doubting any do) which determines whether they have rights. It's whether they can and do use them to survive, and whether they have the capacity to understand and respect the rights of humans.

The day I see a non-human animal involved in an argument, presenting propositions and reasons, rather than a fight, is the day I'll consider that they might have rights.

answered Jul 25 '12 at 09:09

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦
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edited Jul 25 '12 at 09:11

And is it the use of reason for one's own survival that is required to have any rights whatsoever?

(Jul 25 '12 at 13:54) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

I remember 20 years ago in my college anthropology class reading about tasks by chimps in everyday life, from using simple "tools" (i.e. sticks) for digging bugs out of the ground, to grabbing large branches to grab objects out of the water (and even finding a longer branch when a shorter one did not reach!) ....That sure does sound like the use of a concept to me in a non-laboratory setting. Would you agree?

(Jul 25 '12 at 14:03) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

The apparent cleverness of animals is not in and of itself an indication of the use of concepts. Concepts, essentially, require symbols (sonic, or visual) to represent ideas.

(Jul 25 '12 at 14:07) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Unique orca hunting technique documented: http://www.nature.com/news/2007/071214/full/news.2007.380.html

Does this cunning method qualify killer whales for certain individual rights?

(Jul 25 '12 at 14:08) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

"And is it the use of reason for one's own survival that is required to have any rights whatsoever?"

Rights morally sanction freedom of action. They are principles which essentially say: "It's good to leave a person alone unless he's hurting you." They identify a fact about how to best treat a person.

Such principles are not true of animals. It's actually better to breed and kill chickens and eat them, even if they are not hurting you.

The rights of other people are based in your own self-interest.

It's the value, to you, of each other person's reasoning, that rights defend.

(Jul 25 '12 at 14:33) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Rights recognize and protect the value of other human minds -- to humans.

Chicken-thought (which doesn't exist, anyway) doesn't have the value which rights would recognize and protect.

(Jul 25 '12 at 14:37) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

For some reason, you keep referring to chickens, even though I have never mentioned chickens in any argument. I would like you to address with intellectual honesty, the reasoning used by cetaceans and primates, both in the natural world and in artificial laboratory studies.
Furthermore, you keep using the term 'human' in a dogmatic way, which is not appropriate (ever), and it's particularly not appropriate here, because we are evaluating reason and concept formation in all beings.

(Jul 25 '12 at 15:18) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

You cannot exclude animals because they are animals, and include humans because they are human when we are talking about principles. Again, is the use of reason for one's own survival required to have any rights whatsoever?

(Jul 25 '12 at 15:27) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

I'll say yes. If reason is not the means by which a species lives, then I see no reason for the concept of "rights" to apply to that species.

Presumably, if we were to come across another species which survives by reason, then we humans could respect their rights, and vice versa. A peaceful coexistence of the two species would both be possible and beneficial.

We could convince them to do things, and vice-versa. We could co-operate. Co-operation requires, at a minimum, respect of rights.

(Jul 25 '12 at 15:38) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

I've been mentioning chickens because they are a good example of a non-reasoning animal. One's theories must work for the easy cases first, before one starts considering hard cases.

I'm not trying to set up a straw man.

(Jul 25 '12 at 15:39) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

As for your claims of my "dogmatic" use of the term "human" (whatever that might be), I suggest you point to examples of such when you offer such criticism.

(Jul 25 '12 at 15:47) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

But as my examples have shown, reason is in part the means by which some species live. The Orca example is a good one. They have gotten their food by using reason, correct?

I'm not asking you to use chickens or any other "easy" example. That's not what this question is about.

This is a very dogmatic statement of yours: "Rights recognize and protect the value of other human minds -- to humans." You are by definition, limiting rights to humans.

(Jul 25 '12 at 15:56) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

Thanks for clarifying what you think is dogmatic.

I said: "Rights recognize and protect the value of other human minds -- to humans."

I see why that might be taken as dogmatic, but I did not say this:

"Rights necessarily recognize and protect the value of other human minds -- to humans."

Without the word necessarily, I'm just stating a fact about rights, that they do protect the value of other human minds. Of course, were animals to have rights, then rights would protect, as well, the value of animal minds.

My final two words are crucial, though: "to humans."

[continued]

(Jul 25 '12 at 16:29) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Rights are ethical principles. Ethics as such, as we currently discuss them, regard human values. Were we to attribute rights to non-humans, the reason for doing that would be a recognition that protecting animal rights is good for people.

Whenever we say "X is right" we mean X is a good thing for a person to do. Ethics as such so far, presumes a human beneficiary.

Of course, if we discover a reasoning animal, then the topic of ethics might properly be expanded, and discussed with said reasoning animal, and of course he'd be considered a potential beneficiary of ethics.

[cont'd]

(Jul 25 '12 at 16:37) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

But until then, ethics is for us.

(Jul 25 '12 at 16:37) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

As for the Orca gaining its food "by reason", I think that's a stretch. There is no question that some animals learn more than others, and some develop amazing skills. There is animal learning. But the assertion that reason is involved is, I think, an error.

(Jul 25 '12 at 16:44) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Let's tie values (rights) to facts.

When we say "X has rights", we mean, by implication: "It is stupid to harm X unless he/she/it harms you."

That's the practical nature of ethics.

Ethics guide human action, for the sake of human benefit (not dogmatically, but because we're currently the only being which can use ethics).

No valid ethical principle limits human action for the sake of something non-human.

Even if we were to discover an animal which has rights, the consequent moral limitations on our action would be for our benefit.

That's how rights work. Ethics help us live.

(Jul 25 '12 at 17:49) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

I think you need to imagine a group of humans together intentionally causing waves to knock a seal off an ice sheet. I think you need to imagine a human grabbing a longer stick to get an object from water that is out of reach with a shorter stick. Then you might consider these actions of reason (not genius by any stretch, but reason nonetheless).

(Jul 25 '12 at 20:12) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

This statement of yours does not make any sense: "Even if we were to discover an animal which has rights, the consequent moral limitations on our action would be for our benefit." For if we could still do whatever we desire with that animal, then the animal does not have rights. (Your statement is not self-consistent.)

(Jul 25 '12 at 20:19) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

It makes sense. We can do as we desire. But what we desire may not be the right thing to do.

(Jul 25 '12 at 20:46) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I said: "Even if we were to discover an animal which has rights, the consequent moral limitations on our action would be for our benefit."

Assuming the above hypothetical, learning that the animal has rights would cause us to stop harming it, because we'd believe that doing such is wrong.

The consequence of revising our behavior would redound on us as benefits from leaving the animal free to think and to act without our interference.

This new reasoning animal would be one we could trade with, to mutual benefit. Rationally we wouldn't want it as our slave or food source.

(Jul 25 '12 at 22:58) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

As for killer whales and chimps, I acknowledge that there are some pretty smart animals out there, which seem to be able to figure things out without a fully developed rational faculty.

I might even call these borderline cases.

But I still fall back on one question: "What's in it for me to respect supposed rights of killer whales and/or chimps?"

Or, as phrased directly to the animal: "Why should I respect you as a political equal?"

Respect for rights is, rationally, selfishly motivated. If there is no benefit to humans for respecting animal rights, then the animals don't have rights.

(Jul 25 '12 at 23:09) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Last I checked, there's no reasoning with a chimp, and they can be very deadly. And the same is true of killer whales.

Both are impressive, capable species. But we cannot reason with them.

That's the razor: if they cannot be reasoned with, they don't have rights.

To have mad skills isn't enough.

(Jul 25 '12 at 23:17) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

"This new reasoning animal would be one we could trade with, to mutual benefit. Rationally we wouldn't want it as our slave or food source." Where is it stated that trading is a requirement for rights, or that reasoning ability must be of such a high level that trading must be at least possible?

(Jul 25 '12 at 23:22) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

"If there is no benefit to humans for respecting animal rights, then the animals don't have rights." It seems that you are discounting any possibility of animal rights, even in the case of a very highly rational and concept-forming animal. Are you certain that you are accurately speaking for Objectivism?

(Jul 25 '12 at 23:28) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

What about other highly intelligent primate species that are not violent toward humans (such as bonobos)? If such threats are out of the picture, does that change your view in any way? Furthermore, you seem to indicate that rights are either there or they are not. No partial rights of any kind considered? No difference in that sense between a mosquito and a chimp?

(Jul 25 '12 at 23:35) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

Rights are to be recognized, or not. There is no partial right. Where animal rights are recognized, a human right to interfere with said animal is denied.

Correct:no difference in that sense between a mosquito and a chimp.

(Jul 26 '12 at 00:24) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

"It seems that you are discounting any possibility of animal rights, even in the case of a very highly rational and concept-forming animal.

"Are you certain that you are accurately speaking for Objectivism?"

I don't speak for Objectivism. I speak my understanding of Objectivism. I try to speak rationally.

I said: "If there is no benefit to humans for respecting animal rights, then the animals don't have rights."

I do mean, strongly, that any animal which has rights has them because it benefits people to respect those rights. [cont'd]

(Jul 26 '12 at 00:28) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

When I respect the rights of another man, it is not a sacrifice to me.

Were there to be an animal with rights, respecting those rights would similarly not be a sacrifice to me, because it would be right, and the goal of moral action is to benefit the actor.

I'm not discounting the possibility of non-human rights. I'm just underscoring that a right is a moral and practical principle.

If one asserts that an animal has rights, but he cannot explain why any human would have anything to gain from respecting those rights, then he is contradicting himself.

(Jul 26 '12 at 00:35) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

To say "he has rights" is to say "there are good reasons for you to leave him alone to live as he chooses, rather than to kill him or enslave him."

(Jul 26 '12 at 00:38) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

A philosophical system is made up of principles that need to be applied consistently. Otherwise, you don't really have a philosophical system; you have a hodgepodge. Having human DNA is not a philosophical principle, so you need to apply these 'requirements for rights' to all beings, including very mentally deficient human beings.

(Jul 26 '12 at 09:49) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

The essential characteristic of humans is not the DNA, it is the rational faculty.

I don't know what John thinks about this, but if you proved to me that a particular bonobo, who was not genetically altered, had the ability to enter into a rational conversation about rights, this would suggest that the entire species had that faculty, albeit that it was heretofore untapped. That alone wouldn't necessarily mean they have rights, but it would be a large step in that direction.

Right now, any claims that bonobos (or any other non-human species), have the ability to do this, are arbitrary.

(Jul 26 '12 at 10:26) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Also, I would ask that you bring any discussions about mentally deficient human beings to another page. I asked this question specifically to separate the question of non-human animals from the question of mentally deficient humans. I hope you will respect that.

(Jul 26 '12 at 10:34) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Anthony, I totally agree with you, here. It's not the presence of some DNA. It's in the presence of the rational faculty.

To have rights, a species of being must be able to understand and to respect rights. This principle is totally free of human-centrism.

(Jul 26 '12 at 11:15) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

At Anthony's request, I have continued my argument under the first comment set of Do mentally handicapped humans have rights? question.

(Jul 27 '12 at 13:57) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image
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Asked: Jul 24 '12 at 08:48

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Last updated: Nov 15 '12 at 11:28