Are Animals Smart Enough to Have Rights?
An Animal Rights Article from


Adam Kochanowicz,
May 2009

Douglas Adams made an interesting observation about dolphins in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

Man has always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much...the wheel, New York, wars and so on...while all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man...for precisely the same reason.

Are animals smart enough to have rights?

Often the argument has been made that animals are inferior to human beings; that the intellectual abilities of humans advance their status and therefore justify their exploitation of animals.

Reading Making a Killing: The Political Economy of Animal Rights by Bob Torres, I couldn't help but write on this subject.
I could write a separate article about the skewed idea of superiority but the more important issue is the relevance of such distinctions to the inherent value of animals and their right to be free of harm.

For instance could the 'cognitive superiority' of my collegiate 20-year-old sibling to my alzheimer's-inflicted elderly relative justify my exploitation, cruelty, murder, or torture of the latter? So the question becomes: How can the lack of any cognitive property other than sentience justify exploiation?

Torres cites abolitionist Pioneer Gary Francione who explains "inherent value" as "...merely another name for the minimal criterion necessary to be regarded as a member of the moral community. If you do not have inherent value, all of your interests--including your fundamental interest in not experiencing pain and your interest in continued life--can be 'sold away,' depending on someone else's valuation" (Qtd in Torres, 24).

The Food Chain fallacy

Seemingly more strength can be given to the original argument by putting our exploitation in terms of natural conditions or a "food chain." This is where Torres's writings are most appropriate as a response.

From a biologist's perspective, I've never seen any kind of taxonomic food chain other than the term "food chain" being a very general name for how several animals may eat and be eaten in succession. There is no scientific principle stating sentient organisms are strictly part of our food chain. In addition, nature works in cycles, not chains.

Second, stating our exploitation of animals is a human component of a natural process is a gross misrepresentation of the truth. Where animal life may be survival-dependent natural resources for wild animals, the animals we use for food, clothing, chemicals, and labor exist in an economic system, not in any natural setting where there is a balanced struggle to survive. Animals are factories, economic commodities whose worth is defined as their value to a human being's interest.

The logical response to the animal industry and factory farms is the rejection of using animals for any means. The first step is going vegan and no one but you can personally make that decision.

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