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Arguments against speciesism

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For supporters of antispeciesism (philosophical and political movement opposed to speciesism), speciesism is a reprehensible ideology, and an “animal liberation movement” is necessary to put an end to the exploitation of animals.

For antispeciesists, “speciesism can be defined as the idea that the species to which a living being belongs constitutes in itself a criterion of moral consideration”, that is to say “the belief in an ontological superiority of man over animals”. Anti-speciesist reasoning thus proceeds either by extending existing morality by founding the rights of animals on those that humans recognize mutually (rights approach), or by utilitarian construction by extending respect for the interests of individuals to any individual who may have interests. According to Jeremy Bentham “The question is not ‘can they reason?’ nor “can they speak?” but “can they suffer ?””. Some anti-speciesists thus believe that the interests of animals must be respected as are those of humans.

Biology and theory of evolution

The theory of evolution invalidates the idea that humans have a special essence or nature that is different from other animals. More generally, some anti-speciesists refute the relevance of the notion of animal species.

In The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Darwin asserts that there is only a difference of degree, and not of kind, between humans and other mammals, both physically and mentally.

“Nevertheless the difference between the mind of Man and that of the higher animals, great as it is, is certainly a difference of degree and not of kind. We have seen that the feelings and intuitions, the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which Man prides himself, can to be found in a nascent state, or even sometimes well developed, in the lower animals.”

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins criticizes speciesism in The Blind Watchmaker (1986) and The God Delusion on the basis of the theory of evolution. He compares the racist attitudes of the past with the speciesist attitudes of today. In a chapter of The Blind Watchmaker, titled “The One True Tree of Life,” he explains that the distinction we make between species is only due to the fact that the intermediate forms are dead. The intermediate beings between humans and chimpanzees, for example, are simply our ancestors and theirs up to the common ancestor between our two species. It is because we do not have these intermediate beings before our eyes that we can reason according to a “discontinuous mind” and practice a moral “double standard”: for example, condemning, in the name of Christian morality, the abortion of a single human egg cell while accepting the vivisection of large numbers of intelligent adult chimpanzees.

During a discussion with Peter Singer in 2007, Dawkins admits that he continues to eat meat and says:

“That’s kind of the position a lot of people had 200 years ago about slavery. Many felt uncomfortable but continued to practice it.”

The philosopher James Rachels believes that the theory of evolution has the ethical implication of abandoning traditional morality, based on religion and essentialism, and adopting an ethic based on moral individualism:

“According to this approach, the way an individual should be treated is determined, not by considering his group membership, but by considering his own particular characteristics. If A is to be treated differently from B, the justification must be based on the individual characteristics of A and the individual characteristics of B. One cannot justify treating them differently by arguing that either is a member of a privileged group.”

Includes texts from Wikipedia translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu

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