Defenders of animals' rights argue that other people are "speciesists" (like some people are racists). I would like to ask if speciesism is always wrong. Suppose healthy adult people have some features that make them important (say, they can speak and they can reason in complicated ways) and that no non-human animals have. Suppose those features give adult healthy humans some rights. Is it necessarily wrong to assign those rights also to human babies and mentally handicapped humans, but not to non-human animals? We would recognize those rights in babies and the mentally impaired because we like them more than we like other animals (as a matter of fact, most of us are speciesists), but animals couldn't complain about that, could they? Anyway, they wouldn't be offended. I also think this argument would not make racism acceptable.

I was with you about 2/3 of the way through what you wrote. Yes: it might be that some features humans have give them rights beyond those of non-human animals. And yes, in light of that, it might be acceptable to grant the relevant rights to people who don't have the relevant characteristics. (Notice that I've said "might," because the actual arguments will matter.) Your question is whether it could be okay to draw the line at humans and not extend the same rights to non-human animals. Once again, I can see ways of arguing for that view that aren't just obviously crazy, whether or not the arguments are good enough all things considered.

But I found myself puzzled by what comes next. You suggest that we'd draw this distinction because we like babies and mentally handicapped people better than we like, say, puppies and beef cows. Is that a speculation about what our actual motivations? I hope that's all it is, because it certainly doesn't seem like a moral justification. (I'm also pretty sure, based on the number of cat pictures I've seen on the internet, that this speculation about what people like might not be entirely on target...)

Then you remind us that the animals couldn't complain. This is true, of course. Animals also couldn't complain if we tortured them—not, at least, if by "complain" you mean offer an articulate objection. They could certainly howl in pain, though, and that seems at least as relevant. And yes: the animals couldn't be offended (at least, not as far as we know), but whether I'm treating a creature wrongly and whether it's offended are two quite different questions. After all, someone who has their throat slit before they notice what's happening won't be offended, being dead and all that. But what does that have to do with anything?

Finally, you assure us that, far as you can see, accepting this argument wouldn't call for accepting racism. I'm afraid I don't see why. If I'm allowed to treat babies differently from elephants just because I like babies better, then what's the objection to someone who wants to treat people of race X better than people of race Y because he likes people of race X better? It's true, of course, that people of race Y could complain and be offended. But as we've already pointed out, that's not exactly a compelling distinction.

You say we're all speciesist, and you may well be right. I'm not going to deny that I'm guilty of that charge. Still, it seems to me that this is something we should worry about, and sorting through the arguments will be a little harder than the drift of your post suggests.

But then maybe, I'm misreading you. I'm not always good at spotting satire.

Read another response by Allen Stairs
Read another response about Animals