AR-FAQ - #47

#47 Nature is a continuum; doesn't that mean you cannot draw a line, and where you draw yours is no better than where I draw mine?

Most people will accept that the diversity of Nature is such that one is effectively faced with a continuum. Charles Darwin was right to state that differences are of degree, not of kind. One should take issue, however, with the belief that this means that a line cannot be drawn for the purpose of granting rights. For example, while there is a continuum in the use of force, from the gentle nudge of the adoring mother to the hellish treatment visited upon concentration camp prisoners, clearly, human rights are violated in one case and not the other. People accept that the ethical buck stops somewhere between the two extremes. Similarly, while it is true that the qualities relevant to the attribution of rights are found to varying extents in members of the animal kingdom, one is entitled to draw the line somewhere. After all, society does it as well; today, it draws the line just below humans. Now, such a line (below humans) cannot be logically defensible, since some creatures are excluded that possess the relevant qualities to a greater degree than current rights-holders (for example, a normal adult chimpanzee has a "higher" mental life than a human in a coma, yet we still protect only the human from medical experimentation). Therefore, any line that is drawn must allow some nonhuman animals to qualify as rights-holders. Moreover, the difficulty of drawing a line does not by itself justify drawing one at the wrong place. On the contrary, this difficulty means that from an ethical point of view, the line should be drawn a) carefully, and b) conservatively. Because the speciesist line held by AR opponents violates moral precepts held as critical for the viability of any ethical system, and because some mature nonhumans possess morally relevant characteristics comparable to some human rights-bearers, one must come to the conclusion that the status quo fails on both counts, and that the arrow of progress points toward a moral outlook that encompasses nonhuman as well as human creatures. In addition, it should be noted that when a new line is drawn that is more in step with ethical truth (something quite easy to do), in no way should one feel that the wanton destruction of non rights-holders is thereby encouraged. It is desirable that a moral climate be created that gives due consideration to the interests and welfare of all creatures, whether they are rights-holders or not. AECW

The idea that a continuum makes drawing a line impossible or that one line is therefore no better than another is easily refuted. For example, the alcohol concentration in the blood is a continuum, but society draws a line at 0.10 percent for drunk driving, and clearly that is a better line than one drawn at, say, 0.00000001 percent. DG

SEE ALSO: #22, #39-#41