All beings that feel pain deserve human rights

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | All beings that feel pain deserve human rights

I would have posted this over the weekend, but my review of Vegan Freak was running a bit later than I had hoped, and I didn’t want to post anything that would detract from that.

This is a commentary from the man who coined the word “speciesism” and now discusses his philosophy of “painism” (not very catchy) for animal rights or, really, rights or interests for any thing capable of feeling pain.


…happiness is made easier by freedom from all forms of pain and suffering…

…One of the important tenets of painism (the name I give to my moral approach) is that we should concentrate upon the individual because it is the individual – not the race, the nation or the species – who does the actual suffering. For this reason, the pains and pleasures of several individuals cannot meaningfully be aggregated, as occurs in utilitarianism and most moral theories. One of the problems with the utilitarian view is that, for example, the sufferings of a gang-rape victim can be justified if the rape gives a greater sum total of pleasure to the rapists. But consciousness, surely, is bounded by the boundaries of the individual. My pain and the pain of others are thus in separate categories; you cannot add or subtract them from each other. They are worlds apart.

Without directly experiencing pains and pleasures they are not really there – we are counting merely their husks. Thus, for example, inflicting 100 units of pain on one individual is, I would argue, far worse than inflicting a single unit of pain on a thousand or a million individuals, even though the total of pain in the latter case is far greater. In any situation we should thus concern ourselves primarily with the pain of the individual who is the maximum sufferer. It does not matter, morally speaking, who or what the maximum sufferer is – whether human, non-human or machine. Pain is pain regardless of its host…

…The simple truth is that we exploit the other animals and cause them suffering because we are more powerful than they are…

…Basically, it boils down to cold logic. If we are going to care about the suffering of other humans then logically we should care about the suffering of non-humans too. It is the heartless exploiter of animals, not the animal protectionist, who is being irrational, showing a sentimental tendency to put his own species on a pedestal. We all, thank goodness, feel a natural spark of sympathy for the sufferings of others. We need to catch that spark and fan it into a fire of rational and universal compassion.

All of this has implications, of course. If we gradually bring non-humans into the same moral and legal circle as ourselves then we will not be able to exploit them as our slaves. Much progress has been made with sensible new European legislation in recent decades, but there is still a very long way to go. Some international recognition of the moral status of animals is long overdue. There are various conservation treaties, but nothing at UN level, for example, that recognises the rights, interests or welfare of the animals themselves. That must, and I believe will, change…

Well, I certainly agree with him on the “cold logic” aspect. What stops me is the headline, which might suggest the notion of equal rights with humans. This is where we run into an impasse with animal exploiters that twist this philosophy to say AR proponents believe animals should have the right to get married or drive a car, though clearly those are privileges, not rights. Animals should have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, though. Don’t you think? Read the entire comment at the linked site, above, and then you comment below!


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