Intelligence and Moral Rights
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Intelligence and Moral Rights

Many people regard nonhumans as “inferior” because they lack human intelligence. We humans are clever creatures to be sure, and our intelligence is largely responsible for our domination of nearly every region on earth. Whether or not our intelligence proves useful to our survival in the long-term, however, remains in doubt, because the powerful weapons we have used against the natural world are easy to use against each other. Time will tell whether humanity self-destructs via war, environmental destruction, or other means.
It is tempting for humans to define intelligence by the mental skills at which we excel. However, nonhumans have their own kinds of intelligence that has evolved to meet their own needs and challenges. For example, humans should be impressed by the remarkable ability of squirrels to recall and relocate scores of buried nuts, and migrating birds remember geographic landmarks that guide treks up to thousands of miles. Some animals have skills that we cannot fathom, such as echolocation in bats and whales.
Even if we were to play the unfair game of allowing humans to define what constitutes “mental superiority,” most would agree that this is not morally relevant. We do not regard the pain, suffering and death of a person with a high IQ as more tragic than that a person with a lower score. This is in part because there are many kinds of intelligence, and the lower-scoring person likely has certain mental skills that exceed those of the higher-scorer. Another reason is that we still have moral concern for those who have lower performance across the board, such as people with mental disabilities.
Some people think that having a soul puts humans in separate moral category from nonhumans. I will explore this possibility next essay.

Go on to: What Is a Soul?
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