Saturday, August 25, 2007

Animal rights

There's a bit of a blog debate going on about libertarianism and animal rights. Here's my 2 old pennies worth, posted as a comment on the blog that started it off:

Whether there’s a libertarian argument for a certain approach to animals depends on what your arguments are for being libertarian. Objectivists have a predisposition to regard animals as property (at best) because this was Rand’s view. I don’t share it.

I call myself lib because I think our innate quality is autonomy. I don’t have a right to free speech - or indeed anything else - I’m autonomous and can do and say what I damn well please.

But because I don’t live in isolation, I accept some responsibilities towards others, especially in respect of guaranteeing as much of our respective autonomy as possible.

The questions are: who are those “others” and what responsibilities do I accept?

I include some other species in the word “others”, on a sliding scale, because I think that a rational view of the world based on current understanding, especially of evolutionary theory, makes that inescapable.

Dogs and humans have coexisted for millennia, perhaps even coevolved. I accept that my relationship with my dogs includes an obligation to respect their autonomy to the degree of ensuring they get out on walks with me, because I’m responsible for trapping them in a building the rest of the time and they can’t take themselves out because I don’t let them, and of course it extends to ensuring I don’t cause them suffering.

Because I’m depriving them of their autonomy in the first place (something early dog owners probably didn’t do), a breach of these responsibilities towards them would be as grievous as a breach of my responsibilities towards other dependent and powerless individuals, like children or the mentally disabled.

We live in a world, perhaps a universe, in which evolution is driven by predation. This isn’t a necessary evil, it’s a necessary good - species couldn’t adapt quickly enough without the engine of predation accellerating natural selection. Without it, higher life wouldn’t exist.

But I accept a responsibility to respect the autonomy of the animals I eat. So I prefer wild meat, and I won’t eat factory farmed meat, where the animals had their autonomy entirely denied to them.

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