Where Would You Draw the Line?

It’s a question that’s been considered for many years in different contexts by rights holders. Where would you re-draw the line that is now drawn sharply between humans and animals? What criteria would you use, and what rights would you grant?

This question has vexed me for some time. I thought I knew my answer to this question, but found that with each successive interview I had new realizations. I’m so grateful to everyone who shared their insights with me and I hope you gain new insights from them as well.

When I first heard the argument for granting rights to great apes back in the 90’s, I thought, “Great – Yes!” because someone had proposed an actual scenario for rights. Then I came across Gary Francione’s work that argues that all sentient animals should be afforded the moral right not to be property. Gary’s argument is based in part on an idea that ranking animals based on how similar they are to us, the rights holders and hierarchy creators, is to apply the same thinking that justifies other forms of discrimination.  And I thought, “Ok then. I like this better!”

Finally, I came across Steve Wise, who wrote a book called Drawing the Line where he divides animals into groups based on a hierarchy. At first, I assumed there was an intention behind his legal proposal that was at odds with my ethics. However, Steve has spent so much time thinking about the problems inherent with hierarchy that he gave the concept a name, “Aristotle’s Axiom”. So I read some more, then interviewed him, and realized that I was comparing apples to oranges. These are two different scenarios: one is a moral right not to be property, while the other is a legal right which works within the constraints of the legal system.

Justification for re-drawing the line to grant rights to at least some nonhuman animals is addressed in previous posts, and basically boils down two things: First, it is very difficult to gain meaningful protection for beings who are legal property as against legal persons. Second and more importantly is a value system that focuses on opting out of animal use verses focusing on how we treat animals when we use them.

This month’s interviews feature Jarrod Bailey, Richard Epstein, David Priestman, Laurie PycroftRoger Fouts, Steve Wise, Katherine Meyer, Theo Capaldo, Gary Francione, Lee Hall,  Peter Singer, Sarah Baeckler, and Pedro Pozas Terrados

YOU CAN FIND ALL INTERVIEWS RELATED TO THIS POST HERE. You can find more information about anyone featured on this site on the top navigation under People.

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