Research Animal Rights Terrorism and Pacifism

Animal Rights Terrorism and Pacifism

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By Blake Hereth

1 Introduction

I shall explore the Terrorist Objection to the view that animals have rights of comparative strength and kind to the rights we typically assume most human beings have. To explore such an objection, however, it is necessary first to explain what sort of view the objection targets. The Animal Rights View, as I shall call it, consists of a central thesis, which is this:

Animal Rights Thesis: All animals have moral rights.

This thesis, in turn, implies that there are moral rights. What is a moral right? For present purposes, a moral right is simply shorthand for a complex set of permissions and prohibitions, the control over which is possessed by the individual claimed to possess the right.

What rights do animals have, then? On the Animal Rights View, animals have rights which are comparable to the rights we typically assume most human beings have. Perhaps one of the most widely accepted rights is the right to self-defense. This extends to self-defense against animals, as well. It is widely assumed that it is permissible for human beings to kill animals who pose a threat to them. Even strong defenders of the Animal Rights Thesis, such as Tom Regan (1983: 296) and Gary Francione (2000), concede that the defensive killing of animals is often permissible. But as Cheryl Abbate (2015: 106-107) rightly observes, such a position is insufficiently attentive to the broad range of cases:

An ethicist who takes seriously the rights of animals should remain troubled by the seemingly unreflective responses offered by the dominant theories of animal rights regarding the issue of defensive killing of nonhuman animals. This is because when we consider the standard scenarios in which nonhuman animals are said to threaten the lives of human beings, what immediately comes to mind are situations where the lives of humans are threatened because of their unjust actions and treatment of nonhuman animals.

If most or all human beings have defensive rights against wrongfully aggressing animals, but most or all animals lack defensive rights against wrongfully aggressing humans, defenders of the Animal Rights Thesis must explain this. Since such a view is prima facie incompatible with the Animal Rights Thesis whereas its negation is prima facie compatible, I shall assume the following thesis:

Self-Defense Thesis: All animals have a right to self-defense.

For this thesis to be true, it need not be true that any radical theory of permissible self-defense is true. For example, it need not be true that the right to self-defense is absolute, and that animals have a right to self-defense even when they are the uniquely unjust aggressors in a given case. Such a theory would be radically at odds with the basic picture of animal rights which defenders of the Animal Rights View seek to maintain: namely, that an animal’s right to self-defense is comparable to a human’s right to self-defense. The comparison would be lost if humans were forbidden from defending against individuals who initiated wrongful and culpable attacks, yet animals were permitted to defend against such innocents. Thus, the Self-Defense Thesis need only claim that all animals have a presumptive right to self-defense, thereby allowing that such a right may be waived or forfeited. I shall also assume that the Self-Defense Thesis implies the following claim:

Assistance Thesis: All animals have a right to defensive assistance.

Defensive assistance is what it seems like: assistance in the form of defense. Here, some third party is doing the work that the defending party has a right to do: namely, self-defense. Thus, other-defense is simply assisted self-defense. There is some reason to believe the Assistance Thesis. Our duties to assist others depend upon whether those individuals have a right to self-defense in that case. Murderers, for example, lack a right to self-defense against law enforcement attempting to imprison or injure them, but this is not true of murderers’ intended victims. If I am right that the Assistance Thesis follows from the Self-Defense Thesis, then we should expect that defensive assistance of the murderer would not be morally required whereas it would be required for his intended victims. Such a view gets the intuitive judgments precisely right here. Moreover, on the account of rights I am assuming, if you have a duty to treat someone in a particular way, such that the treatment is owed to that individual, then that individual has a right to that treatment. Notice also that the right to defensive assistance is, like the right to self-defense, a presumptive right. I lack a right to defensive assistance in a particular case if defensively assisting me in that case would invariably result in the death or grievous injury of anyone who assisted me. Similarly, then, if animals have a right to defensive assistance, their right is a presumptive right and therefore subject to certain restrictions.

2 The Terrorist Objection

What I have shown thus far is that the Animal Rights View being assumed here has strong implications for moral life. If animals have rights of equal strength as human beings, then they too have a right not to be enslaved. Thus, they should not be captured and merely used for human purposes. Under those circumstances, animals have the right to self-defense and, more importantly for present purposes, a right to defensive assistance. Such a right poses an important problem, which can be seen from the following case:

The Night Shift Zookeeper

Nour is a 17-year-old working the grounds as a summer job at the Toledo Zoo. One night, which just so happens to be a night Nour is working the night shift, a group of animal activists sneak into the zoo with the purpose of freeing the animals from their enslavement at the zoo. If Nour sees the activists, she will call the police. The activists know this. Their only option is to surprise Nour and slit her throat.

An essential clarification is in order. The example makes no mention of why the Toledo Zoo holds the animals captive. There are, broadly speaking, two possibilities. The first is that the Toledo Zoo does so for reasons that stand no reasonable chance of justifying such treatment, on the assumption that the animals have robust rights. For example, perhaps scientists at the Toledo Zoo are personally curious how the animals will handle captivity. In this respect, the zoo’s reasons are not unlike those of some kidnappers, who for similar reasons abducted and subsequently imprisoned typical adult humans—a decisive reason for supposing that such treatment is profoundly impermissible, on the assumption that animals have the same sort of robust rights that the victims of kidnappers have. The second is that the Toledo Zoo does so for reasons that stand some reasonable chance of justifying such treatment. Perhaps it’s true that unless the animals are imprisoned, they will be poached. Imprisoning the animals, then, helps them.

I shall assume that some defenders of the Animal Rights Thesis can in principle make the sort of exception for cases like the one envisioned above. They can say, for example, that certain weighty utilitarian considerations can make permissible the harming or killing of an individual with rights. Following Jeff McMahan (2011: 10), it is an infringement of rights when utilitarian considerations make it permissible to do what others have a right that we not do, and a violation when no considerations make it permissible. Consider a case in which you have a right that I not enter your property without your consent, but I will die unless I step onto your lawn to avoid being hit by a car. There, your right continues to exist despite the permissibility of me working against it, making it unlike cases of violation (in which I work against your right, but not permissibly) and forfeiture or waiving (in which you lack the right).

Suppose, however, that rights are absolute. If this is true, then no amount of utilitarian considerations can make it permissible to work against a right. Thus, every working against a right is a violation and not an infringement. Again, defenders of the Animal Rights Thesis need not adopt this view of rights. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to explore the implications of the Animal Rights Thesis when wedded to such a view of rights. Thus, I shall assume the following thesis is also true:

Rights Thesis: If an individual has a moral right, that right cannot be permissibly gone against.

Given these assumptions, we can make the following argument:

(P1)      If all animals have moral rights, then all animals have a right to self-defense. [Assumption]

(P2)      If all animals have a right to self-defense, then all animals have a right to defensive assistance. [Assumption]

(P3)      If all animals have a right to defensive assistance, then the animals in the Toledo Zoo have a right to defensive assistance against Nour. [Assumption]

(C1)     Therefore, if all animals have moral rights, then the animals in the Toledo Zoo have a right to defensive assistance against Nour. [From P1, P2, and P3]

(P4)      If the animals in the Toledo Zoo have a right to defensive assistance against Nour, then harming Nour in defense of the animals in the Toledo Zoo is presumptively permissible. [Assumption]

(P5)      But harming Nour in defense of the animals in the Toledo Zoo is not presumptively permissible. [Assumption]

(C2)     Therefore, it’s not the case that all animals have moral rights. [From C3, P4, and P5]

The argument is a reductio ad absurdum against the Animal Rights Thesis when wedded to certain plausible auxiliary assumptions. The central argument is contained in C1 through C2, and might be condensed as follows:

(P6)      All animals have a right to defensive assistance. [Assistance Thesis]

(P7)      If all animals have a right to defensive assistance, then it’s presumptively permissible to harm Nour in defense of the animals in the Toledo Zoo. [Assumption, from Assistance Thesis]

(C3)     Therefore, it’s presumptively permissible to harm Nour in defense of the animals in the Toledo Zoo. [From P6 and P7]

The conclusion that harming Nour is presumptively permissible may appear to provide some leeway for defenders of the Animal Rights Thesis. After all, perhaps it is presumptively permissible but actually wrong. However, given other assumptions, this is impossible. Consider the following supplemental argument:

(P8)      Either it’s merely presumptively permissible to harm Nour in defense of the animals in the Toledo Zoo, or it’s actually permissible to harm Nour in defense of the animals in the Toledo Zoo.

(P9)      If it’s merely presumptively permissible to harm Nour in defense of the animals in the Toledo Zoo, then either (a) Nour or someone else has some stronger right than the animals in the Toledo Zoo or (b) some utilitarian consideration(s) trump the Toledo Zoo animals’ rights.

(P10)    It’s not the case that (a) Nour or someone else has some stronger right than the animals in the Toledo Zoo or (b) some utilitarian consideration(s) trump the Toledo Zoo animals’ rights. [Rights Thesis]

(C4)     Therefore, it’s actually permissible to harm Nour in defense of the animals in the Toledo Zoo. [From P8, P9, and P10]

Because the Rights Thesis entails that no right can be permissibly gone against, it follows that the rights of the chimpanzees cannot be permissibly gone against. Thus, going against the rights of the chimpanzees must be more than merely presumptively wrong, and thus they must be actually wrong.

Such a conclusion, the objection goes, is plainly incompatible with our commonsense moral beliefs about the impermissibility of harming or killing not just about animal researchers, but zookeepers, hunters, combatants in warfare who kill or intentionally endanger innocent animals, and perhaps even poachers. If the Animal Rights Thesis is true, it is actually permissible to harm (and perhaps even kill) many of these individuals—a deeply counterintuitive implication. As John Hadley (2009: 168) observes,

[I]f people who are harming animals are liable to third-party defense, then tens of thousands, possibly millions, of well-intentioned, law-abiding, good-natured, talented and otherwise reasonable people will be legitimate targets for violence. Presumably, this would mean that many farmers who raise animals for food, scientists who use animals in biomedical research, people from varying occupations who employ animals in entertainment and recreational pursuits, and doctors who abort sentient fetuses, would be liable to third-party defensive violence on behalf of the animals.

That the Animal Rights Thesis appears to imply that these individuals can be permissibly harmed on these grounds is, therefore, an objection against the Animal Rights Thesis. Such an objection is the Terrorist Objection.

3 Four Responses

How might defenders of the Animal Rights Thesis reply to the Terrorist Objection? I shall explore four possibilities and conclude that two are either implausible or not open to defenders of the Animal Rights Thesis (or both), and that one of the other views must be true if the Animal Rights Thesis is true. I then argue that the final view is true.

3.1     Deny the Animal Rights Thesis

The first option is simply to concede the Terrorist Objection and deny the Animal Rights Thesis. Because such a move is clearly not open to defenders of the Animal Rights Thesis, said defenders should look to the alternatives.

Moreover, this view depends upon certain speciesist assumptions that do not withstand scrutiny. Suppose that the individuals in the Toledo Zoo were not animals but ordinary adult human beings. In that case, Nour’s actions would be morally akin to those of a Nazi prison guard, and it would hardly seem implausible to suppose that she could be permissibly killed to defend her actual or would-be victims. Yet the only difference here is mere species, and a difference in mere species cannot itself make a difference as to whether individuals have rights.

Moreover, even if it did make a difference to whether animals have rights, it would not make a difference to whether animals have a moral status sufficiently robust to justify defensive assistance. If I come across a stranger sexually molesting and torturing an orca, it seems that I am permitted to stop the stranger from doing this even if that requires harming the stranger. This implies that even a rejection of the Animal Rights Thesis is insufficient to evade the force of the problem.

Finally, if the objection is simply that animals lack rights because, if they had rights, third parties would be permitted (in the course of defensively assisting animals) to inflict immense harm or even death to a vast number of human individuals, then this is prima facie reason to reject any ascription of rights whatsoever. Consider that history contains various periods in which an enormous percentage of the human population had an abusive hand in the horrors of slavery, often threatening to harm slaves, or actually harming them, or killing them. Ascribing rights to slaves, then, would permit at least as many human beings to be harmed or killed, but that is hardly a good reason to deny that slaves have rights. Thus, we should abandon this response to the argument.

3.2     Appeal to Diminished Liability

Maintaining the background theses and assumptions, it is apparent that any account of Nour’s case cannot entail that Nour acts permissibly, since Nour goes against the rights of the chimpanzees and, by the Rights Thesis, doing so is always wrong. What remains possible is that Nour acts excusably. To act excusably is, in this sense, to avoid culpability for one’s actions. Abbate (2015: 108) endorses this view, saying:

I conclude that (1) in cases in which human beings are culpable for posing an unjust threat to nonhuman animals, human beings are fully liable to defensive harm and thus are not justified in harming nonhuman animals in order to defend themselves, and (2) in cases in which human beings are morally responsible (but not culpable) for posing an unjust threat to animals, they should at least share in the costs of their actions.

On Abbate’s view, non-culpability entails diminished liability. While non-culpable ignorance is not the only means by which Nour can avoid culpability, it is one way. For Nour’s case, we might suppose that Nour is unaware that animals have rights, or perhaps she rejects that view for principled reasons that are not obviously implausible.

Defenders of the Animal Rights Thesis might use this in one of two ways. First, to explain why it’s permissible to engage in harmful defensive action against Nour, but less permissible than it would be against, say, the Nazi prison guards. Second, to explain why it’s impermissible to engage in harmful defensive action against Nour. On the former view, Nour’s non-culpable ignorance is not sufficient to eliminate her liability to defensive harm, but it is enough to make her less liable than the Nazi guards. On the latter view, Nour’s non-culpable ignorance is sufficient to make her not liable to defensive harm. Consider the following case from Gideon Rosen (2002: 64-5):

[C]onsider an ordinary Hittite lord. He buys and sells human beings, forces labour without compensation, and separates families to suit his purposes. Needless to say, what he does is wrong. The landlord is not entitled to do these things. But of course he thinks he is. Moreover, we may imagine that if he had thought otherwise, he would have acted differently. In that case he acts from moral ignorance in our sense.

As Rosen would have it, the Hittite lord is non-culpably ignorant of the slave’s rights because “chattel slavery was simply take for granted,” and “it would have taken a moral genius to see through to the wrongness of chattel slavery” (2002: 65 and 66).

I shall concede that Rosen is right about the Hittite lord: namely, that the lord is non-culpably ignorant for his wrongdoing. Still, non-culpable ignorance cannot diminish liability in the slave case or in the Nazi case, and for the same reason: because slaves and individuals in concentration camps still possess a right to engage in defensive harm against their brutal oppressors, and therefore also possess a right to defensive assistance against their oppressors. As Hadley (2009: 169) explains,

[I]f people who harm animals are not liable in terms of being responsible for unjustified harms without an acceptable excuse, then moral agents who buy and sell, confine, mutilate without anesthetic, infect with disease, kill for pleasure, and otherwise use rights-bearers as tools will not be legitimate targets for proportionate third-party defensive violence. Such a conclusion would be radically at odds with common sense, if the rights-bearers concerned were human animals of comparable capacities, fetuses aside, and makes the claim that animals have valuable lives worthy of protection ring hollow.

Or consider a case in which my kidnapper is a convinced solipsist, though she grants that she treats me in ways that would be morally monstrous if I were real. She tells me that if she were convinced to abandon her solipsism (which she holds quite sincerely), she would immediately set me free and turn herself in. There again, it is implausible to suppose that I lack defensive rights against my kidnapper, and therefore also implausible to suppose that I lack a right to defensive assistance against my kidnapper. Similarly, then, we should conclude that Nour’s non-culpable ignorance is insufficient to make her non-liable to defensive harm or to defensive assistance. Thus, we should abandon this response to the argument.

 3.3     Endorse Terrorism

Still another option is to deny (P6), which claims that harming Nour is not permissible. Perhaps it is not so implausible to claim that inflicting defensive harm on Nour is permissible. After all, it would be permissible if Nour were a Nazi guard, and Nour’s non-culpable ignorance is insufficient to rule out liability to defensive harm. Nour violates, or intends to violate, an individual’s right, and we are therefore obligated to defend that individual against her wrongful aggression.

But are we obligated? Members of the Animal Liberation Front—a group recognized by the U.S. government as a domestic terrorist group—do not kill or even injure animal researchers, but they face severe criminal penalties simply for freeing animals and burning animal laboratories. Such penalties, whether they are exacted or merely risked, would place enormous burdens on individuals. Far greater penalties would be enacted were the individuals in question to attack animal researchers, even if it were necessary to save the chimpanzees. A lifetime in prison, execution, and the like are hardly outcomes which are reasonable to expect moral agents to bear, and thus there is no duty to engage in defensive assistance in those cases.

Still, some moral agents might be obligated to engage in defensive assistance: namely, agents who will not get caught or even run a serious risk of getting caught. Indeed, there are agents for whom there is no risk of getting caught (e.g., particularly stealthy animal liberators) or who would face no burdens even if they were (e.g., politically powerful individuals with numerous outstanding favors). In the absence of other burdens, these agents would be obligated to engage in defensive assistance, and therefore obligated to defend the animals against Nour. Moreover, the denial of (P6) does not imply that moral agents are required to be terrorists, only that they are permitted to be terrorists.

Let’s be clear on what this means: agents are permitted to defensively assist animals against many animal researchers, hunters, farmers, (some) combatants in warfare, and poachers. In short, millions of people. And they are permitted to do this now.

3.4     Endorse Pacifism

What options are left? If we suppose that the Animal Rights Thesis is true, which entails that the Permission Thesis is true, then we must say that animals have certain defensive rights. But if they have certain defensive rights, this raises the question whether they are permitted to defend themselves against Nour. If not, then either Nour did not wrong them, or she did but some other consideration makes it impermissible to defend against her. By hypothesis, Nour would wrong them, which also entails that the animals neither forfeited nor waived their rights. By the Rights Thesis, no utilitarian considerations or other rights trump the animals’ rights. As those are the only two possibilities, it’s impossible that some other consideration makes it impermissible for the animals to defend against her, which rules out non-culpable ignorance as a basis. Finally, if we suppose that Nour is liable to defensive harm, then we must suppose everyone like Nour is open to defensive harm, which entails that an immense amount of harming and killing is permissible. If we disabuse ourselves of these options, including the latter option, then we must concede that animals have rights but that they (and therefore we) are not permitted to engage in defensive violence. The final option, then, is that moral agents are required to be pacifists.

On this view, moral agents are forbidden from using violence in all cases, including self-defense and defensive assistance. That may appear to be incompatible with the Permission Thesis, but it need not be. Instead, it merely shows that there are limits on what agents can permissibly do in defense of others, a conclusion which itself is not altogether surprising. After all, no one supposes that agents are permitted to do just anything in other-defense. Thus, pacifism implies that agents are permitted to defensively assist the chimpanzees, but not in violent ways.

Nevertheless, pacifism would impose very restrictive limits on the Permission Thesis, and would also require some potentially radical revisions to commonsense beliefs about defensive violence. Consider the broad host of wrongful aggressors pacifism forbids us to harm or kill in the actual world. Now, consider that pacifism implies that third parties weren’t permitted to defend these victims with violence.

What seems apparent, then, is that pacifism is as controversial a moral thesis as terrorism is, but for different reasons. The apparent problem with terrorism is that it implies that we are permitted to attack too many individuals, whereas the apparent problem with pacifism is that it implies that we are permitted to attack too few (Narveson 2003). The central problems with pacifism and terrorism are therefore two sides of the same coin. Again, with pacifism, the central problem is that it implies we are forbidden to harm or kill individuals it seems obvious we are permitted to harm or kill. With terrorism, the central problem is that it implies we are permitted to harm or kill individuals it seems obvious we are forbidden to harm or kill. The central problem of both views, then, is discrimination: Pacifism forbids us from killing would-be murderers in self-defense, but terrorism permits us to slit the throat of a 17-year-old working a night shift at the zoo. These problems are central to pacifism and terrorism in the sense that they are the most frequently cited and counterintuitive problems of the views.

Fortunately, the apparent epistemic impasse is resolvable. Pacifism and terrorism are on an initial epistemic par. The former is saddled with the burden that we cannot permissibly harm a great many aggressors when it seems obvious that we can. Pacifism also has the modal implication that no possible wrongful aggressor can be permissibly harmed, even in possible worlds where doing so is the only feasible means of saving oneself or others. Terrorism is thought to be false because it entails that we can permissibly harm individuals who seem morally immune from defensive attack. With terrorism, too, the modal implications appear damning: worlds with immense numbers of animal abusers may be harmed or killed to protect the animals. We might even divide the actual and merely possible cases into two broad categories: harming human aggressors who will harm other human beings, and harming human aggressors who will harm animals. Terrorism permits both, whereas pacifism forbids both. Our commonsense moral beliefs suggest that harming members of the former group is presumptively permissible whereas harming members of the latter group is impermissible.  Pacifism implies that our first commonsense belief is false while affirming the second, whereas terrorism does just the opposite.

The epistemic par, therefore, is apparent. Other things being equal, we have as good a reason to accept terrorism as pacifism. Because of this, we should affirm pacifism, and we need not appeal to any especially controversial moral principle to do so. I shall defend two moral principles that can break the epistemic parity between pacifism and terrorism. In the end, these principles support pacifism. The first principle is what I shall call the Assume Endured Rights Principle, according to which if an individual had rights prior to now and it’s now unclear whether they still have those rights, we ought to presume they do. It can be represented as follows:

Assume Endured Rights Principle:

(1) If I know Threat had rights prior to now the possession of which would, if Threat still had them, make it actually impermissible for me to harm Threat, and

(2) if there are now roughly equally good reasons to believe both that Threat currently has those rights and that Threat doesn’t, then

(3) it’s impermissible for me to harm Threat.

To see why the principle is true, consider an example in which it’s extremely controversial whether it’s permissible to kill someone defensively. Frowe considers a case like this as an objection to her view on defensive liability. She writes:

I deny that there is a causal threshold for liability to defensive killing, such that one must make a significant contribution to an unjust threat if one is to be liable to defensive killing. But some people have objected that this means that taxpayers who finance an unjust war will be liable to attack on my view (Frowe 2014: 209).

Frowe goes on to defend her view from this objection, but she claims to recognize that her view is very controversial. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that it’s in fact unclear whether taxpayers are liable to defensive harm. What, then, should be our default assumption? Our options seem to be as follows:

Option A: Assume Liability

We can’t discern whether taxpayers are, in fact, morally liable to defensive harm. However, we will assume that they are and kill them. If we’re right, then we’ve not wronged them (though we may have acted wrongly for reasons independent of liability). If we’re mistaken, then we’ve wronged them (but may have acted permissibly for liability-independent reasons).

 Option B: Assume Non-Liability

Our epistemic situation is the same as in Option A. However, we will assume that taxpayers aren’t liable to defensive harm and thus avoid killing them. If we’re right, then we’ve avoided wronging them (though, again, we may have still acted wrongly for liability-independent reasons). If we’re mistaken, then we’ve not wronged them by failing to kill them (but may have acted impermissibly for liability-independent reasons).

What ought we to prefer, morally speaking? In cases where the moral status of an individual is in doubt, some argue that we are morally culpable for killing that individual. For example, Alex Guerrero (2007: 78-9) defends what he calls the Don’t Know, Don’t Kill Principle.

Don’t Know, Don’t Kill Principle: If someone knows that she doesn’t know whether a living organism has significant moral status or not, it is morally blameworthy for her to kill that organism or to have it killed, unless she believes that there is something of substantial moral significance compelling her to do so. Guerrero remarks on the principle:

The justification component is somewhat less straightforward. [Don’t Know, Don’t Kill] is a caution principle; it requires one to exercise caution before performing certain actions when one is in certain epistemic states, unless one has some justification for going ahead and acting anyway. The justification required in DKDK is that the person believes that there is something of substantial moral significance compelling her to act. (2007: 80)

The language of “substantial moral significance” is relevant here, however, because it might be seen as a reason for adopting animal rights terrorism over animal rights pacifism. When humans unjustly attack animals, something of substantial moral significance will be sacrificed in either case: the life or welfare of either the human or the animal (or both). Thus, it might be thought that this renders Guerrero’s principle moot with respect to the relevant cases in this paper, including Night Shift Zookeeper.

I shall assume for argument’s sake that Guerrero’s principle is moot for this reason. However, it seems to me to be moot for another, more important reason: Neither the direct moral status of the human aggressor nor the direct moral status of the animal is in question. What’s in question is not whether they ever had rights, but whether they still have them. On the view that animal rights terrorism is permissible, it will (typically) be maintained that the unjust human aggressors have lost their right not to be killed. On the view that animal rights pacifism is true, it will (typically) be maintained that unjust human aggressors haven’t lost that right. What’s agreed upon by both views is that both the human aggressors and the animals had rights prior to the incident in question.

In my view, we ought to prefer Option B over Option A because our background moral knowledge better supports it. In this case, our background moral knowledge includes knowledge of the fact that the human aggressors and the animals had the right not to be killed prior to the incident. The current epistemic parity is such that we lack sufficiently good reason to believe that anyone lost the rights they had. If that’s true, then we lack sufficiently good reason to believe that they’re liable to defensive harm. Thus, we should assume non-liability instead of liability. The case for animal rights terrorism rests on the assumption that unjust human aggressors are liable or at least should be treated as if they are, and thus a true moral principle (like the Assume Endured Rights Principle) implying otherwise entails the falsity and hence impermissibility of animal rights pacifism. Since our options are animal rights terrorism or animal rights pacifism, we should endorse animal rights pacifism.

4 Conclusion

Do animals have robust basic moral rights? If they do, those rights include the right to self-defense and the entailed third-party permissions. This appears to imply a presumptive permission to kill any number of humans in defense of vulnerable animals whose basic rights are threatened, a problem I dub the Terrorist Objection. I then raised four possible replies and rejected three of them, concluding that the Terrorist Objection is best solved by animal rights pacifism.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: My thanks to Michael Blake, Karen Emmerman, Helen Frowe, Jeff Sebo, Nathan Nobis, Chris Cuomo, Paul Tubig, my students at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, and those present at the 2017 Society for the Study of Ethics and Animals (SSEA) workshop at the University of Colorado, and the Stockholm Center for the Ethics of War and Peace’s Graduate Reading Retreat at the Australian National University (Kioloa campus).

AUTHOR’S NOTE: If anyone would like a much longer, more recently updated draft of this paper, please email me at sbhereth@uw.edu.

 

Blake Hereth, who identifies as agender and uses the pronouns ze/zir/zirs, is a PhD student in philosophy at the University of Washington and a member of the APA’s inaugural Graduate Student Council. Ze specializes in the ethics of self-defense, animal ethics, and philosophy of religion. Zir dissertation examines the concept of liability to defensive harm, arguing that liability is logically incoherent.

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