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This question is somewhat of a tie in to my previous one "Should objectivists feel any sense of responsibility to their ancestors or descendants?" but is more specifically concerned with the rights of animals. If raping/murdering/cannibalizing etc. another human is a violation of their rights, does the same hold true for animals? Is bestiality acceptable to objectivists? Or, because animals are "lesser life forms" they do not deserve the same treatment? Is it wrong to treat animals without respect or dignity? Or is abuse acceptable?

asked Jan 26 '11 at 00:17

Junky's gravatar image


edited May 28 '14 at 16:40

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Junky, this is very closely related to an earlier question, "Do animals have rights?" -- so you may want to check that page out as well.

(Jan 26 '11 at 13:19) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Excerpted from: http://www.strike-the-root.com/4/graham/graham1.html

I attended a talk by the great libertarian psychologist Nathaniel Branden. During the question and answer session, a young man told Branden that he maintained an Objectivist Web site. He had posted an essay ridiculing animal rights on the site. A woman had e-mailed him recently and challenged him with the Argument from Marginal (human) Cases. He confessed that he could not think of a good retort. (...continued...)

(Jul 31 '12 at 12:27) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

Dr. Branden cut him off: 'I'm afraid I won't be able to help you on this.' Dr. Branden explained that he himself had 'struggled' with the question of the moral status animals. He said even Ayn Rand (a confirmed cat lover, by the way) had felt there must be something morally wrong with mistreating animals, but, unable to make it fit her Objectivist philosophy, she shelved the issue. As for him, he could not deny the pure Aristotelian logic of the Argument from Marginal Cases. He was stuck.

(Jul 31 '12 at 12:28) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

There is something morally wrong with mistreating animals, and this fits in just fine with Objectivism. That doesn't mean animals have rights, though.

Immoral does not always mean illegal.

(By the way, I wouldn't put much stock in your quote of Dr. Branden's interpretation of Rand's philosophy, even if it did fit in with my understanding of Objectivism. But it doesn't. "There is something morally wrong with mistreating animals" does not equal "animals have rights".)

There is something morally wrong with "mistreating" one's automobile. But it isn't, and shouldn't be, illegal.

(Jul 31 '12 at 12:59) anthony anthony's gravatar image

And I do agree with you regarding the difference between "animal welfare" and "animal rights." But you state without any reference that Objectivism somehow may indicate that it is improper to mistreat animals? What? Where?

(Jul 31 '12 at 13:04) orb85750 orb85750's gravatar image

I stated, without any reference, that Objectivism does not contradict the fact that there is something morally wrong with mistreating animals.

My only reference for this negative would be everything that I know about Objectivism.

I don't know that Rand ever explicitly stated that it is wrong to mistreat animals, if that's what you're looking for. Leonard Peikoff has, but Peikoff of course is not Rand.

Furthermore, I think it naturally follows from Objectivism that one should treat one's property properly. That it is wrong to mistreat one's property follows from the definition of mistreat.

(Jul 31 '12 at 13:10) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I think there is an argument to be made here, as an application of Objectivism, that animals are of value to humans and thus we should treat them well. I have posted a new question to discuss animal welfare specifically, granting the fact they do not have rights. http://objectivistanswers.com/questions/7204/are-animals-of-value-to-humans-and-is-therefore-moral-to-be-concerned-for-their-welfare

(Jul 31 '12 at 13:27) la_phil ♦ la_phil's gravatar image
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While I agree with the answer by Javert, I don't believe it really gets to the heart of the matter, which is the nature of beings. Human nature is different from animal nature, which is why humans don't have the right to eat other humans (man's rights) but we can justify eating animals.

It's a pretty complex issue, covered in Objectivist literature, but consider some illustrative examples that may provide "food" for thought.

If you were walking in the jungle and a lion ate you, should the lion be prosecuted for violating a right? No, the lion is outside this context: man's rights and their protection through the political system he creates for his survival in a society of men.

If the lion eats a zebra, should the lion be prosecuted for violating a right? No, the zebra has no right (remember, a man made political concept) not to be eaten by the lion. The nature of animals requires that they survive by killing and eating other animals. Nature is tough.

Human nature however requires a different means of survival. We need to use our minds, and we need other humans to divide the labor required for survival as humans. Our nature is what justifies our right to be free to use our minds to survive (which included, once upon a time, the absolute need to eat animals to survive- whether this is required today is debatable. It is not a need nutritionally in America, but it may be in poorer 3rd world countries).

When we humans take an animal as a pet, and provide for its survival, then I believe that pet becomes our property, and is protected by our property rights, from other humans.

answered Jan 26 '11 at 10:51

la_phil's gravatar image

la_phil ♦

edited Jan 26 '11 at 23:04

"Animal rights" is an invalid concept. Animals do not have rights.

The concept of rights relies on the concept of value. A right protects values (to humans) in a social context. In particular, expropriating the possessions of other humans (via force or fraud) does not create values; it destroys values. A right is the political instantiation of this moral fact.

However, expropriating the "possessions" of animals (their bodies, their labor, etc.) CAN create value; there is nothing immoral in using animals in this way (in fact, doing so IS moral, excluding edge cases such as bestiality, which does not provide value for the human engaging therein). In other words, there is no moral principle that would give us reason to grant rights to animals; rather, it is IMMORAL to grant rights to animals.

Hope this is helpful.

Further references: Ayn Rand Lexicon article on "rights" (can be found via Google); "The Objectivist Ethics" essay in "The Virtue of Selfishness"

answered Jan 26 '11 at 00:30

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javert ♦

"bestiality, which does not provide value for the human engaging therein" why does it not provide value? What about beating animals(this is probably wrong because the person who beats animals does it out of evilness, is the same true for bestiality, and can you explain to me why it is evil)?

(Jan 26 '11 at 00:39) Junky Junky's gravatar image

btw not saying that i practice bestiality nor do i beat animals, i think that is sick, but just curious as to how objectivists apply their reasoning to real life. One other thing, lets say an extraterrestrial alien species starts farming humans for industrial use, in javert's words, expropriating the humans bodies, labour, etc. to create something of value, is that wrong? since they are essentially a non human, fully sentient species capable of rational thought, but on a higher level than humans such that they are superior, would it be considered immoral amongst them to grant humans rights?

(Jan 26 '11 at 00:44) Junky Junky's gravatar image

To understand why beastiality does not provide value, you must simply look at the nature of man, his values, the meaning of sex, and so on. There is ample information about this in the Ayn Rand Lexicon and in other Objectivist sources. If you're still curious, you could open a new question on this.

(Jan 26 '11 at 01:09) javert ♦ javert's gravatar image

As for the question of an extraterrestrial species using humans as humans use animals---such an advanced species would be irrational to do so, because there's no value it could obtain from doing so. Humans are not fundamentally different from animals, except for our minds, and those do not work under compulsion. So an advanced extraterrestrial species could either gain value by trading with us peacefully, or would be so advanced that interacting with humanity would be a "neutral" value proposition. Again, you could open a new question on this.

(Jan 26 '11 at 01:10) javert ♦ javert's gravatar image

Regarding the question of aliens -- let me question against presenting false hypotheticals. In this case, I think it's perfectly illustrative (i.e., not a problematic hypothetical). But it's easy to ask a question where you say, "what if this particular aspect of reality were different," and to get the answer, "well, then Objectivism would be wrong, but that isn't how reality is, so why does it matter?"

(Jan 26 '11 at 01:12) javert ♦ javert's gravatar image

I'm pretty sure Randlexicon said that sex is the physical culmination of your admiration of shared values in another person, or something to that effect. But bestiality/sex/masturbation as a physical release, and for personal pleasure does not provide value? Is something wrong or evil if it provides no value?

(Jan 26 '11 at 01:20) Junky Junky's gravatar image

Also, humans could be considered a source of meat for an alien species. And you are essentially saying that the appearance of an alien species would radically alter or completely disprove objectivism?

(Jan 26 '11 at 01:21) Junky Junky's gravatar image

Sex is a different topic; open a new question for that.

Human meat just isn't tasty. In all seriousness, though---aliens would have no reason to eat us, when they could trade with us and eat our tasty cows and pigs instead. If they really want to eat us, well, I guess it'll be war.

No, of course I'm not saying that; to my understanding, there is nothing in Objectivism that would be countered by the appearance of an alien species.

(Jan 26 '11 at 01:23) javert ♦ javert's gravatar image
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For those who are curious and would like to hear a more extended treatment of the matter, Dr. Diana Hsieh and I addressed animal rights and the moral implications of animal cruelty in three different segments of her weekly radio show, Philosophy in Action.

On Sunday, 3 April 2011 the question was:

Do animals have rights? If not, why not? Given that we don't need to eat animals to survive, shouldn't we be vegetarians or vegans? Also, if animals don't have rights, are people then entitled to do whatever they please with animals that they own?

The segment was some 20 minutes long with a lot of good material, and the condensed conclusion was:

The claims of animal rights are based on false understanding of the nature and basis of rights. While cruelty to or neglect of animals is deplorable, government should not become involved unless the rights of some person are violated.

The next question that same day spring-boarded into:

What does it mean to treat an animal humanely? The term "humanely" when applied to animals is confusing to me. More generally, what is the proper moral treatment of animals?

That segment only took about 8 minutes (it just extended the above material), and the conclusion was:

To treat an animal humanely means to act in a benevolent way toward it. A person ought to act toward animals in such a way that respects the nature of the animal and the context of the interaction, in pursuit of his own self-interest. Generally, particularly with domesticated animals, that means acting kindly but firmly. Brutality toward animals is often ineffective, dangerous, and reveals moral depravity.

Also, several months earlier on Sunday, 28 November 2010, the question of moral evaluation of animal treatment was addressed head-on:

Are people who abuse their pets immoral? Or: Should we think ill of someone for neglecting or abusing their pets? If so, why?

That segment was only about 7 minutes long, and the conclusion was that "A person's treatment of his pets reveals his character, for better or worse."

answered Jul 18 '13 at 13:33

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Greg Perkins ♦♦

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Asked: Jan 26 '11 at 00:17

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Last updated: May 28 '14 at 16:40