The Instigator
Pro (for)
21 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

My 150th Debate: Animal Rights

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Voting Style: Open with Elo Restrictions Point System: Select Winner
Started: 10/24/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 11 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 4,377 times Debate No: 81115
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (164)
Votes (3)





This will be my 150th debate! Having advertised for competitors and topics, I am thrilled to have FT as my opponent, given his record of debating success on the site. It should be an intense challenge, and I'm truly looking forward to it.

To vote on this debate, you must have at least 3,000 ELO.

Full Topic

Justice requires the recognition of animal rights.


The following definitions were influenced by Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Merriam Webster, and Encarta:

Justice - giving each their due
Require - to demand as necessary or essential
Animal - any organism of the Kingdom Animalia, as opposed to those of the Kingdoms Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaeabacteria, and Eubacteria
Right - something that one may properly claim as their due' and/or 'a moral or legal entitlement to (not) perform or have others perform certain action(s) and to (not) be in certain states


1. No forfeits
2. Full citations should be provided in the text of the debate
3. No new arguments in the final round
4. Maintain a civil and decorous atmosphere
5. No trolling
6. No "kritiks" of the topic (e.g. justice is unknowable, rights don't exist, etc.)
7. My opponent accepts all definitions and waives his/her right to add resolutional definitions
8. For all undefined terms, individuals should use commonplace understandings that fit within the logical context of the resolution and this debate
9. The BOP will be assumed to be shared unless debaters make arguments to the contrary, in which case judges may evaluate the arguments to decide the burdens of the debate; Pro must only affirm that some animals are due rights
10. Violation of any of these rules or of any of the R1 set-up merits a loss


R1. Acceptance Only
R2. Pro's Case, Con's Case
R3. Pro rebuts Con's Case, Con rebuts Pro's Case
R4. Pro defends Pro's Case, Con defends Con's Case
R5. Pro rebuts Con's Case, Con rebuts Pro's Case, both Crystallize

Thanks... FT for agreeing to do this debate with me; I look forward to an exciting round of debate!


Thanks for the debate bsh1.
Debate Round No. 1


Thanks to FT for the debate! I'll present my case.


Justice has been defined as "giving each their due." How then do we determine who is due what? To answer this question, let's consider the following examples: suppose that I am in a race, and I used performance-enhancing drugs in order to secure my victory. Was my victory just? No, because it was unfairly acquired; I garnered an unfair advantage in order to outdo my competitors. Similarly, if I promise a friend that I will help them with a project if they proof read my essay, it would be unfair of me to renege on my end of the bargain if my friend upholds their end. It would be unfair to take without giving what was promised; it would be unjustly one-sided. These examples serve to demonstrate the importance of fairness in determining what we are due. Fairness indicates that I am not due the win, and that my friend is due my help with their project. Fairness should thus be our metric here in determining who is due what.


C1. Needless Suffering

Fairness in Application of Rights

Perhaps the most fundamental due we ascribe to beings is the right to be free from needless or wanton suffering. In fact, one of the primary purposes of rights is to shield agents against needless suffering. Consider that all rights are in some way designed to insulate people from being the victims of such suffering. The rights to property, freedom, bodily integrity, healthcare, and so forth are all in some way preventing suffering. A person denied the ability to own property, arbitrarily confined, physically violated, and prevented from having their illnesses addressed is a person who is suffering.

The human rights discourse itself seems to be a response to suffering. The crimes of WWII, which lead to the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), such as the torture of POWs, the oppression of millions, and, most notably, the Holocaust, were all crimes that inflicted untold suffering on human beings, and demanded that the international community respond to protect individuals against that kind of treatment.

Given this, it seems that one of the purposes we accord rights is to prevent needless suffering. If we buy that this is true, then any agent that can experience needless suffering deserves rights protecting them from it. If our goal is to protect groups from needless suffering, and groups H and A can suffer needlessly, it would be unfairly prejudiced to protect group H but not A, and it would be counterproductive to our overall goal. Thus, if animals can needlessly suffer, we should accord them rights.

Animals Can Suffer

Animals are certainly able to feel physical pain. "Every particle of factual evidence supports the contention that the higher mammalian vertebrates experience pain sensations at least as acute as our own...their nervous systems are almost identical to ours and their reactions to pain remarkably similar." [12]

At least some animals are capable of mental suffering. Take elephants for example. Their advanced emotional capacities mean that they are definitely capable of suffering: "Studies show that structures in the elephant brain are strikingly similar to those in humans. MRI scans of an elephant's brain suggest a large hippocampus, the component in the mammalian brain linked to memory and an important part of its limbic system, which is involved in processing emotions. The elephant brain has also been shown to possess an abundance of the specialized neurons known as spindle cells, which are thought to be associated with self-awareness, empathy, and social awareness in humans. Elephants have even passed the mirror test of self-recognition, something only humans, and some great apes and dolphins, had been known to do." [1]

Elephants that have witnessed or been subject to violence also show signs of PTSD. "'A large body of research shows that the neurobiological mechanisms of attachment are found in many mammals, including humans and elephants...The emotional relationship between the mother...offspring impacts the wiring of the infants' developing brain.'" [1, 2] Elephants are also known to mourn those they lost, showing negative emotions (e.g. regret) at the absence of the lost others. [3] PTSD-like symptoms have also been observed in dogs. [4] "Dr. Walter Burghardt...has classified the cluster of symptoms he has seen in these animals as a form of canine post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)...[M]any behaviors seem to be somewhat analogous to those of the human counterpart, such as signs of hyper-vigilance, changes in temperament, and/or unusual, agitated reactions to once-tolerated noises or sights...Correspondingly, the desensitization counterconditioning and medication treatments that are seemingly helpful for serious canine cases arguably pull from desensitization/cognitive therapies and pharmacological interventions that have been effective for human veterans with PTSD." [5]

Generically, research suggests that "all vertebrates appear to have some capacity for primal affective feelings." [6] All mammals have universal survival circuits as well. These circuits are closely related to emotions, strongly implying that some similarities in emotions carry across the board. [7] There is even evidence many that mammals have conscious experiences. [8] "Based on a range of scientific studies...we know that emotional harm actually hurts more than physical harm, and that animals will 'choose' physical suffering over emotional suffering, if forced to pick." [13] Given the above data, it seems like animals can experience not just physical suffering, but also psychological and emotional suffering.

C2. The Law

The Law as a Due

If we refer back to the example of me promising to trade my friend for services, we can see that promises and fairness have a close relationship. Promises generally ought to be fulfilled (unless they promise to do something clearly immoral), and they enjoin the person making the promise to carry out the promised actions. It would be unfair to not fulfill a promise because to allow people to break promises would be to allow deception and fraud, and it would also be to allow people to evade obligations that they otherwise should have carried out. It allows people to unfairly relieve themselves of their responsibilities.

The law is a kind of promise. It promises us that when someone breaks a rule, they will be punished, and that the rules will be enforced to create an understood playing field. When the law is not enforced, it breaches a promise, and is thus not just. Thus, if animals are promised rights under the law, they are due those rights under the fairness standard.

Animal's have Legal Rights

"Children and idiots start legal proceedings, not on their own direct initiative, but rather through the actions of proxies or attorneys who are empowered to speak in their names. If there is no conceptual absurdity in this situation, why should there be in the case where a proxy makes a claim on behalf of an animal? People commonly enough make wills leaving money to trustees for the care of animals. Is it not natural to speak of the animal's right to his inheritance in cases of this kind? If a trustee embezzles money from the animal's account, and a proxy speaking in the dumb brute's behalf presses the animal's claim, can he not be described as asserting the animal's rights'? More exactly, the animal itself claims its rights through the vicarious actions of a human proxy speaking in its name and in its behalf." [9] We could also cite the example of laws protecting animals from abuse or endangered animals from being hunted. They're all legal promises that are rights of the animals'.

C3. Argument from Marginal Cases

All Humans, But...

All humans have rights, or (at the very least), people of all different kinds have rights. We only need to look at international law to see the truth of this statement. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states unequivocally: "Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life." [10] Why is it the case that we can give "every human being" a right or rights, but not animals? There must be some morally relevant reason, otherwise it is merely unjustified prejudice (speciesism) to give humans rights but not animals, and to treat humans a particular way, but not animals.

No Relevant Differences

We can look to the examples of babies and of the profoundly mentally handicapped (including severe Alzheimer's, brain injuries, etc.) with which to make this case. Humanity accords to both of these groups certain rights against maltreatment and abuse, yet they are incapable of reasoning, higher-order emotions, self-actualization/goal-setting, and rationally engaging with the moral community.

If these classes of people have rights, then why not animals? All three groups (animals, the mentally handicapped, and infants) share a dearth of those qualities usually used to differentiate humans and animals. In fact, some animals might be more capable of rational thought, emotions, goal-setting, etc., than those groups of people, seemingly making them more qualified for rights than many humans--the case of Chimpanzees being a notable example. [11]


Presume Pro because it's more egregiously unjust to deny rights where they were due than to award rights where they weren't. Denying a due violates justice, but extra benefits do not necessarily do this.


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Pro's arguing for a massive shift in the way we view animals, so the burden of proof should be on Pro. Animals have always been viewed as property. They've been used for meat, milk, fertilizer, land transport, leather, military assault vehicles, plow traction, wool, feathers, plywood adhesives, fire extinguisher foam, plastic, tires, crayons, cosmetics, lubricants, soaps, detergents, cough syrup, contraceptive jellies, ink, shaving cream, fabric softeners, textiles, synthetic rubber, strings for musical instruments, and so on.

Indeed, Professor Epstein says there'd be “nothing left of human society if we treated animals not as property but as independent holders of rights.” [1] Recognizing animal rights would impose unprecedented limits on the range of permissible human action. It also creates an inherently unfair asymmetry: animals can't reason morally, can't justify their actions, can't be held responsible for their actions, can't be sued or put in jail, can't enter contracts, and can't honor human rights.

Since this is a huge change, and since it imposes unprecedented restrictions on human freedoms, and since animals lack the self-reflective ability to know the difference either way, the burden of proof is on Pro. And if your judging paradigm requires shared burdens, then at least presume that animals don't have rights as a default position. Remember, we don't recognize rights to protect ourselves from animals; we recognize rights to protect ourselves from other humans. So there needs to be a presumption against extending rights to animals.


Whether justice requires extending rights to animals depends on why humans have rights in the first place. I propose the following frameworks:

(1) Michael Perry's argument that religion is the only viable ground for universal human rights in our postmodern world. Since rationality alone cannot justify absolute, universal truths or values, the only way to justify universal human rights is through faith in God. In this view, God gave humans certain rights, including dominion over animals. [2] Under this framework, animals clearly don't have rights.

(2) John Rawls' contractarian theory of justice, which holds that rights derive from a social contract between reasonable individuals (e.g. principles chosen in the original position). In this view, rights don't depend on any particular religious, philosophical, or metaphysical doctrines. Instead, reasonable individuals agree to basic rights that give them the most control over their lives. [3]

(3) Rainer Forst's constructivist theory of justice, which says that human rights are grounded on the status of humans as justificatory beings. Forst explains that humans not only have a unique capacity for language, but also the ability to take responsibility for their actions by giving reasons to others and expecting that others do the same. At bottom, this view posits a single fundamental right the right to justification and this right requires that those who affect you in morally relevant ways justify their actions to you reciprocally and generally. This right to justification thus lends every moral person an accompanying veto-right against actions that can't be justified.

Forst contends that "human rights are weapons in combating certain evils that human beings inflict upon one another; they emphasize standards of treatment that no human being could justifiably deny to others and that should be secured in a legitimate social order." Forst continues: "If human rights ensure that no human being is treated in a way that could not be justified to him or her as a person equal to others, then this implies reflexively speaking that one claim underlies all human rights, namely human beings' claim to be respected as autonomous agents who have the right not to be subjected to certain actions or institutional norms that cannot be adequately justified to them." [4]

These frameworks justify human rights. But neither justifies extending rights to animals. Animals can't enter contracts, so Rawls argued that animals are beyond the scope of justice. Besides, individuals in the original position have no reason to agree to limit their rights or freedoms by recognizing animal rights. Animals also lack the ability to justify their actions, to demand justifications, or to understand justifications given by others. As such, animals are not morally considerable beings. So Forst also excludes animals from having rights.

[Note: Each of these frameworks negates the resolution independently. Thus, Pro must show that all three frameworks are flawed. Showing that only one is flawed isn't enough. And Pro also must show that there's a better framework that justifies both human rights and animal rights.]


Some philosophers have argued that utilitarianism provides a justification for human rights as instrumental goods that produce the greatest aggregate utility.

However, that argument undermines human rights, because it defines rights as instrumental rather than intrinsic goods. In effect, the resulting rights aren't actually rights, since they'll need to be violated whenever maximum utility requires it. Utilitarianism thus creates a rights system that would dole out or take away rights on a case-by-case basis, which technically isn't a rights system at all.

That said, even if a utilitarian calculus isn't necessary or sufficient to justify rights, utilitarian concerns are nonetheless relevant to justice and how far we extend rights. So if the costs of recognizing animal rights outweigh the benefits, it creates a strong presumption against extending human rights to animals. After all, if the costs outweigh, it suggests that limiting rights to humans creates a better (and therefore more just) world.

Of course, the costs outweigh. There are no benefits to recognizing animal rights. None. Meanwhile, there are huge costs:

(1) Giving animals rights means stopping animal testing. However, the vast majority of our pharmaceuticals and medical advancements have come from studies using animals. Unsurprisingly, this research has saved countless lives, eliminated countless diseases, and even saved the lives of countless animals (veterinary science is a thing, too).

(2) There is a risk that giving animals rights would degrade the importance of rights altogether. The inevitable result of viewing animals more like humans is to view humans more like animals. As a result, we could end up treating humans as badly as we treat animals, rather than treating animals as well as we treat humans.

(3) Recognizing animal rights would add billions of potential new plaintiffs, along with billions in litigation costs, to an already overburdened court system. The only ones who benefit are lawyers. Everyone else loses.

(4) Meat and seafood is fvcking awesome. It tastes amazing. It brings us intense pleasure. And it allows the creation of delectable gastronomic works of art. But recognizing animal rights means becoming a vegetarian. And that means we'll lose out on these pleasures, pleasures that are essential to our shared humanity. There is no better way to connect with someone than over oysters at your local seafood joint.

(5) Hunting and fishing are also great ways to connect with your fellow humans. And they bring intense pleasure to those who do them. And they increase our respect for (and understanding of) animals and human nature. Of course, animal rights means doing away with these pleasures. Yet another loss to humanity.

(6) Recognizing animal rights will lead to the extinction (or massive reduction in number) of many animals. This is because humans breed and protect many animals that wouldn't be bred or protected in a world where animals have rights. So, yes, recognizing animal rights is harmful to animals. And, yes, that's counterintuive. But it's true.

And that brings me to my final point:

We don't need to recognize animal rights to protect animal welfare. Just because I don't support an artificial construct of formal rights for animals doesn't mean I support animal cruelty. Humans should prevent unnecessary animal suffering, not because animals have rights, but because human interests (and utilitarian concerns) recommend limiting unnecessary animal suffering.

For instance, utilitarianism isn't sufficient to justify rights or to justify violating rights. But that doesn't mean it's irrelevant to moral reasoning. Utilitarian calculations matter. And they adequately protect animals without needing to create a moral or legal equivalence between humans and animals.

For all these reasons, and because an artificial construct of formal rights for animals would harm both humans and animals, vote Con.



2. Michael Perry, Toward a Theory of Human Rights: Religion, Law, Courts

3. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice

4. Rainer Forst, The Right to Justification: Elements of a Constructivist Theory of Justice
Debate Round No. 2


Thanks, FT! Onto Con's case:


1. The Status quo is not self-justifying. There are at least 2 worlds in a debate. Without any reason to believe that the status quo is better than an alternative, there is no good reason to believe it is the path we should pick. It would be as random as flipping a coin, because either world could be better.

2. Many societies do recognize, to varying degrees, animal rights and the need to protect animal welfare. [14] So, it's dubious to assume that the "status quo" really is a world without animal rights.

3. Usually, the purpose of giving one side the BOP is because it is unfair to ask the other side to prove a negative. For example, it is unfair to ask you to prove unicorns don't exist, because they always could, somewhere. In normative topics, however, it is possible to prove a negative. For example, I can uphold "redistribution is not right" by arguing libertarianism. This topic is normative, and so there is no reason Con shouldn't share the BOP; in fact, convention would indicate it should be joint.

4. Con's making an affirmative claim. The current status quo grants all humans rights, and various national and international legal documents affirm this fact. [10, 15, 16, 17] Yet, Con's explanations for the origins of rights would deny all human beings have rights, since not all human beings can enter contracts, not all religions will grant rights to nonbelievers, and not all people can formulate justifications for their actions. Given this, Con is making, implicitly, the affirmative claim that not all humans should have rights, and so he is not defending the status quo. Con thus has a BOP, meaning: (a) Con must justify denying some people rights, and (b) Con fails to provide any real support for this theories, and so they are, as yet, bare assertions.



Con is using "kettle logic," a "fallacy wherein one uses multiple arguments to defend a point, but the arguments are inconsistent with each other." [18] Religion invalidates contractarianism and justification because it denies that either consent or justification is necessary for rights. Merely being created in God's image or being vested with God's authority is sufficient. Contractarianism also conflicts with justification, because the former requires active volition (actively agreeing to and debating a contract), whereas the latter merely requires the capacity to offer justifications. Moreover, justification seems to require a lower threshold than contractarianism. A 10 year old can justify his actions on a moral level, but he cannot rationally/legally consent to a contract. Utility also contradicts these theories. The point of all this being that Con's arguments (a) refute each other, (b) create an unclear and unstable advocacy (what's his threshold for rights?)

1. Religion

(a) Not all religions reject rights for animals. Consider the concept of "ahimsa" (nonviolence, including re: animals) found in Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism, and Hinduism's reverence of cows. [19] The faith embraces the idea that animals have rights against cruel treatment. Hence, the concept of God giving dominion over animals to humans is particular to some faiths. It is arbitrary to exclude some faiths but not others in building a rights paradigm. Con is also being ethnocentric.

(b) Religion is an inadequate source of rights. Not all faiths will grant all people rights, reserving them instead just for the faithful. And, different faiths are going to support different sets of rights (e.g. Islam would not give people the right to make religious images, but Christianity would).

2. Contractarianism

(a) Rawl's theory justifies cruelty to animals. "Rawls's view is inconsistent...because of the conjunction of its exclusion of animals and its commitment to political liberalism...The liberal principle of moral pluralism holds, roughly, that the state must protect individuals' liberty to pursue their reasonable conceptions of the good, where a conception of the good is considered unreasonable only if its pursuit would be inconsistent with a commitment to the principles of justice. Since, on Rawls's view, animals are not owed anything as a matter of justice, it appears that he is committed to rejecting state interference with the pursuit of conceptions of the good that involve, for example, inflicting even severe suffering on animals for religious reasons, or in the course of engaging in valued activities such as hunting." [20] This is a contradiction in Con's case, since he himself argues for limiting animal suffering.

(b) The Original Position fails. It provides participants too little information to make any choice, let alone a rational one. "For how can we make any rational choice without knowing our primary ends, or fundamental values and commitments?" [21] Also, different people will reach different conclusions due to unique thought-processes. Thus, it could easily be that parties in a original position choose to extend animals rights.

3. Justification

(a) Justification is a failed criterion. It seems that anything could be justified; Hitler could justify the Holocaust. You and I may not find the justification compelling, but many do and did. On face, then, it seems as if justification is a meaningless criterion for determining acceptable action. The only way to rescue it is to identify a variety of pre-justification values (e.g. kindness, justice) that one can appeal to in order to justify an action, since justification itself isn't sufficient. But, even this fails because: (a) it's infinitely regressive (for me to justify action X with value Y, I must justify value Y with claim Z, which I must then justify with...), (b) the values can be contorted to serve any purpose (e.g. still Hitler), and (c) it's circular (justice arises from justification, but justice must also justify justification/unjustifiable action is unjust, but justice must also be used to justify actions).

(b) Con's vague. There are a lot of details lacking here, and we should reject the argument because of it. Crucial questions like, "what constitutes 'adequate' justification," and "why must justification be a reciprocal enterprise" are left unanswered.

(c) Why can't animals justify their actions through emotions and body language? It seems plausible that they could.



1. Granting animals rights is not granting them equal rights to humans. Rather, it is giving animals their due(s). Con makes a lot of arguments based on assumptions that animals will get sweeping new rights, yet, my C1 (for example) would merely grant animals a right against needless suffering.

2. Con pretends to consider utility, but only by applying preferences, etc., equally can we truly evaluate utility fairly.


A Rights System

It recognizes that moral agents have unique capacities for suffering, happiness/pleasure, interests, or preferences. At bottom, then, this view posits a single, fundamental right—the right to equal consideration of feelings/interests/preferences. This means that an animal has a right to have their interests measured against a humans' when making decisions.

1. Testing isn't a big issue

(a) It's ineffective: "According to a 2004 study...more than 4,000 studies report efficacy of more than 700 treatments of stroke in animal models. Yet none of the approximately 150 of these treatments tested in humans showed clinical benefit...A 2004 study from the [FDA] found that 92 percent of drugs entering clinical trials following animal testing fail to be approved. Of those approved, half are withdrawn or relabeled due to severe or lethal adverse effects not detected during animal tests." [22]

(b) If we grant animals a right against needless suffering, they could still participate in humane treatment regimes. Rules regarding humane testing are already in place in the U.S.

(c) There are alternatives: "It is now possible to create organs in laboratories and to test chemicals on those organs instead of on actual organisms." [23] "EpiDerm, derived from cultured human skin cells, is more accurate than animal tests in identifying skin irritants." [22]

2. This is a slippery slope fallacy, “in which a person asserts that some event must inevitably follow from another without any rational argument or demonstrable mechanism for the inevitability of the event in question.” [24] Humans have already learned the dangers of treating themselves as property, and so this whole fear is overblown. Furthermore, giving oppressed blacks more rights didn't cause whites to treat themselves more like oppressed blacks.

3. This implies our court systems couldn't adapt, fails to consider that the money spent/earned in court may be an economic positive, and erroneously concludes that animals would get sweeping new rights. In fact, animals already have many legal protections in the status quo that our governments have coped with.

4+5. Cross apply my overview here re: the vegetarian remark. Also, I don't see how indulging ourselves outweighs protecting animals legitimate interest. The hunting = closer to animals remark is also unsubstantiated; if you kill it, you probably view it as less worthy of good treatment.

6. Cross apply my overview here re: the idea that captive breeding couldn't occur. Moreover, animal rights would empower governments to protect wild space which would only benefit conservation.


Con says he doesn't want animals harmed for utilitarian reasons, but also calls for animal testing and other harmful things to benefit humans. Con's assurances to animals ring hollow.


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This round is for rebuttals to Pro’s case. I’ll defend my case in R4.


Pro defines justice as fairness. But justice is sometimes unfair. For example, inheriting a large sum of money is just, though it's unfair that certain people benefit from having rich families while others don't.

Fairness requires more than justice, so don't judge the debate under that definition. The agreed-upon definition is "giving each their due," which Aristotle defines as "treating equals equally and treating unequals unequally." Use that standard, not fairness.


If you apply Pro’s standard for justice, apply Rawls’ contractarian theory of justice. This framework best captures the idea of justice as fairness. Indeed, the idea underlying the original position is to decribe a social contract that is fair to all parties. It accomplishes that through the veil of ignorance, which guarantees impartial judgments, because all the parties are deprived of knowledge about their personal characteristics and social and historical circumstances. Pro's "needless suffering," "law as due," and "marginal cases" arguments approach nothing close to this level of impartiality.

Needless suffering

Pro isn’t advocating a right against suffering. Not even humans have that right. Pro’s advocacy is limited to a right against needless suffering. Hence, the following problems:

(1) Pro’s framework is inconsistent. It justifies human rights as instrumental goods that reduce needless suffering (a utilitarian justification), while justifying animal rights on the basis of a capacity to experience suffering (a deontological justification). The “kettle” criticism actually applies to Pro's argument much more than my independent advocacies. [Note: the notion of "needless suffering" inherently implicates utilitarianism, because it requires a weighing of competing interests.]

(2) Pro offers no evidence that animal rights will reduce overall suffering, so the utilitarian justification has no force in the context of animals. In fact, my utilitarian analysis suggests that overall suffering will increase if we recognize animal rights (more on this in R4).

(3) Pro's utilitarian framework conflicts with his fairness framework. Utilitarianism produces famously unfair results (e.g. the organ harvest case).

(4) Pro must show that justice requires animal rights, not merely that justice allows animal rights. But Pro hasn't shown (or even argued) that human rights (let alone animal rights) are necessary to reduce needless suffering. Nor has Pro shown that justice as fairness requires that humans reduce needless suffering (i.e. fairness requires impartiality/neutrality, not subjective utilitarian calculations about suffering). Why can't humans reduce needless suffering through legal prohibitions instead of rights?

(5) Pro’s argument is humancentric. When is suffering needless? Humans decide. What’s the standard? Humans decide. Pro takes the status of humans as a starting point, asking whether animals resemble humans enough to grant them rights. This reinforces my Aristotelian definition of justice rather than Pro's fairness standard. And it suggests that humanness is the relevant factor in justifying rights.

(6) Animals can't experience needless suffering. Needlessness is a moral concept that only humans experience and understand. So why should we give animals a right against needless suffering? Why are animals due a humancentric, human-imposed, category of understanding that animals neither experience nor understand?

(7) Pro’s advocacy lacks a limiting principle. What if we program a computer to experience suffering whenever we use it – will that computer then have rights? And if a computer has rights, what about other non-living objects? Where do you draw the line? What happens when you apply Pro's "marginal cases" logic here?

(8) Pro's advocacy is vague. Who measures the suffering? How is it measured? Who decides if it's needless? No objective mechanism exists for distinguishing needless suffering from reasonable suffering. So if the person enforcing this right believes all suffering is reasonable, the right is meaningless. But if the enforcer believes all suffering is needless, it reduces to a right against all suffering, which is absurd, unenforceable, unjust, and unfair.

(9) Given how vague a needless suffering right is, it would inevitably lead to different results for similarly situated individuals, based on the biases of the specific judge in each case. But justice and fairness both require similar results for similarly situated individuals. So leaving this much discretion to the person measuring/weighing the suffering is neither just nor fair.

(10) Just because animals experience pain doesn't mean they suffer. Animals are ruled purely by instinct. True, some animals are self-conscious. But that doesn't mean they suffer the same way humans do. And even if animals suffer in the exact same way as humans, who cares? Suffering is just another way that an animal's life could go badly, along with having or lacking food, having or lacking disease, and so on. From an animal's perspective, all suffering is the same. So what is special about animal suffering that somehow justifies distinguishing needless from reasonable suffering?

(11) Animal suffering (or pain) is necessary. It is the result of evolution, an adaptation. It motivates animals. It helps them avoid harmful situations. In fact, we still don't know all the ways that pain potentially benefits animals. How can justice require that we artificially mess with the processes of evolution, especially in the absence of conclusive knowledge about what we're messing with?

Law as due

Pro's argument fails for three reasons:

(1) The law is a social contract from which animals are inherently excluded. That means the law only promises things to other humans, not animals. Humans agree to certain restrictions and responsibilities, for which they receive certain protections and rights. In contrast, animals don't agree to anything. They can't enter contracts. They can't be put in jail. And they can't be sued. The law doesn't hold animals accountable in any way. And it therefore promises them nothing.

(2) Justice only requires that we keep promises when (a) someone has relied on the promise, or (b) there was consideration (i.e. a contract). If there is no reliance or consideration, there is no harm to breaking the promise. In fact, it might even be harmful to keep a promise (e.g. when there is an efficient breach of contract). Animals neither rely on promises nor do they offer consideration. So even if the law promises animals anything, there is no need to keep those promises. There may even be an obligation to break those promises if the costs of keeping them outweigh the benefits.

(3) This debate is about what justice requires, not what the law says. You can't just say justice requires X because the law promises X. That merely conflates justice with the law. Consider: the law in some places treats women as their husband's property. Under Pro's logic, justice requires that we give men the right of ownership over their wives, because that is what the law promises. Of course, that logic is absurd. The requirements of the law are distinct from the requirements of justice. The status quo tells us nothing about the requirements of justice or the justification for human rights (or animal rights).

Marginal cases

Again, this debate is about what justice requires, not what the law says. Yes, the status quo gives severely retarded infants rights. But that doesn't mean justice requires that we do so. Indeed, nothing Pro argued suggests that justice requires universal human rights. Under Pro's "needless suffering" framework, for example, humans unable to experience suffering, or humans who experience suffering as pleasure, wouldn't have rights. Moreover, Pro's framework distinguishes between humans and animals, because humans decide when suffering is needless, not animals (remember, Pro's argument is inherently humancentric).

Pro's argument also lacks a limiting principle. Why not extend rights to everything, including plants and non-living objects, if all that matters is whether something is similar to a potential human? Of course, extending rights to everything would completely degrade the value of having rights, just as inflation devalues money. In effect, rights wouldn't be rights at all. Without a limiting principle, then, any justification for rights would collapse.

So don't hold me to arguing for universal human rights. That said, I would argue that membership in the human species is a relevant criterion for rights, because only the human species has the capacity for justification, only the human species enters the social contract, and only the human species is granted rights by God. Think about it: we owe our family more than other families, our community more than other communities, our country more than other countries. Why not extend that logic to the species? Just as membership in our family or country ir relevant to justice, membership in a species is relevant.


Pro assumes that depriving animals of their dues is more unjust than depriving humans of their dues. This assumption is uncalled for.

Recognizing animal rights means humans no longer have the right of ownership or stewardship over animals. So rather than presume that animals have rights, presume that
animals don’t have rights, because giving animals rights means taking away rights from humans.

In a choice between human rights or animal rights, human rights should always outweigh. Even Pro’s argument is humancentric. Notice that every single reason Pro gives for extending rights to animals starts from the premise that humans have rights, and then asks whether animals are similar to humans in relevant ways. Humanness is relevant to justifying rights, animalness is not. Plus, remember all the reasons in R2 for putting the burden on Pro (more on this in R4).

So presume human rights over animal rights.

Debate Round No. 3



Con insists justice "gives each their due." But, this doesn't explain "how" we decide who is due what. Even re: treating equals equally, there must be some way we know who is/isn't equal.

1. I gave 2 dropped examples showing how fairness should be used to determine dues.

2. Turn: Treating equals equally is an issue of fairness--we can't arbitrarily discriminate. His interp backs mine.

3. (a) FT fails to explain in the counterexample why it is just that someone inherits that large sum of money (he just assumes it to be true). (b) Additionally, he also assumes it to be unfair without analysis; thinkers like Nozick would call it fair since all players played by the rules of the game (animals are unfairly excluded from the rules). The point here is that FT's counterexample is a bare assertion fallacy; my examples are dropped, so prefer them.

4. Cross-apply my prior objections to Rawls Also, fairness is more than mere impartiality; it's also about being non-arbitrary. Rawls misses this; he basically says (re: animal rights (AR)), it's okay to arbitrarily exclude all animals but not some humans, just so long as we are impartially arbitrary. This is (a) nonsensical--it bases justice on the egoism of the participants in the VOI (that's partial) and (b) based on random chance (that's unfair).


C1. Needless Suffering

1. I argued that (A) rights were designed to protect individual agents from needless suffering (NS) (Con doesn't really dispute this) and (B) as animals can suffer needlessly, they meet the rights-threshold. (a) Con's remark that my theory was deontological was under-warranted. (b) My argument wasn't one of utility, in that my goal was to protect individuals from NS, rather than to minimize NS overall (notice, I said "protect/prevent" not "reduce/minimize").

2. The goal of a right to NS is not to minimize SUF; it's to protect individual agents from gratuitous harm, which may have SUF-reducing effects, but the effects =/= the justification. We can recognize that there may be some cases when SUF is okay to inflict, while still saying that animals should have a right against the sadist torturing them. The sadist, or a person beating a dog in anger, violates the animal's interests against SUF, while doing nothing to advance the rights of others against NS. Con thus misunderstands my entire argument, because I don't need to prove that animal SUF reduces overall SUF; merely, I need to show that animals can be victims of gratuitous SUF. If they can be victims of that, then they are entitled to protections.

3. (a) This is a bare assertion. (b) Con falsely assumes that NS implies utility; others, like Nussbaum, would disagree. Con doesn't do enough to explain why NS is necessarily utilitarian.

4. If agents have due X, then justice REQUIRES us to ensure X, lest we not give each their due. Agents are due freedom from NS. If we can imagine even a handful of incidents in which animals were victims of NS (Michael Vick, the sadist, the dog beater...we can imagine more), then justice requires, in those case, that animals be protected from NS. The same with human rights; genocide, torture, rape, etc. are incidents that people ought to be protected from to stop NS. Notice that the R1 definition of rights refers to "moral OR legal entitlements;" if agents have a due X, then justice REQUIRES us to ensure X. So (a) legal entitlements are sufficient to affirm, and (b) it has to be a right otherwise we can't ensure each due is protected/guaranteed.

5. Con says I'm anthropocentric, linking this to Aristotle and to humanness as the relevant factor in granting rights. (a) I already rebutted Aristotle. (b) I spent my entire case denying humanness as the relevant factor for rights, calling it arbitrary. My case is structured as it is in order to critique humanness.

6. When we can choose between violating or not violating a right, we ought prefer the latter. However, when rights conflict, there must be a way resolve it, otherwise we have paralysis. My right to free speech, for instance, doesn't justify shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre, as it violates the rights to bodily integrity of scores of others, and subjects them to suffering (SUF). NS, then, is SUF that isn't necessary to prevent the violation of rights (the violation of which would lead to even more SUF). A sadist torturing a cat is an example of "needless" SUF; his actions are not necessary to prevent the violations of other's rights against NS.

7. The limiting principle here is SUF. Rocks can't SUF; rocks don't get rights. Con doesn't explain why rights for the computer is nonsensical (bare assertion).

8. (a) Turn: Con's advocacy is more vague. He runs 3 contradictory positions, making it impossible to know where he stands or what his actual rights-threshold is. At least, with SUF, reasonable people can agree when SUF is/isn't occurring. (b) SUF is at least a intense feelings of emotional, physical, or mental pain. [25]. I've demonstrated that animals SUF as they can feel all three. (c) Pain (and what causes it) can be deduced scientifically through observations of brain responses.

9. This is non-unique. Any system that applies rights is going to involve subjectivity. It may, for instance, be questionable whether person X is rational or not. This requires subjective assessments from the judge.

10. (a) Con's claim that animals are ruled purely by instinct is unsupported. (b) Con drops all of my PTSD + emotional SUF arguments which show that animals have more than "mere" instinct. Prefer my dropped evidence to Con's warrantless claims. (c) Not all humans SUF the same way; surely a severely mentally disabled person SUF mostly on a physical level, yet many animals SUF not just physically, but also mentally, implying that they can SUF as much or more than some humans. Thus, it is arbitrary to give rights to humans to prevent SUF, but not to animals.

11. (a) Not all pain produces evolutionary benefit (e.g. the sadist torturing a cat to death). (b) Justice can require messing with evolution. Rawls for instance, says people have a right to security [26]. But this right actively interfere's with the idea that the weak will die off allowing the most fit to reproduce. We can also imagine other rights that would similarly get in the way of nature.

C2. The Law

1. (a) The law is not a contract. Rawls argues that "decent peoples secure for all persons...human rights." [26] The mentally ill and babies don't consent to the social contract, yet even the social contractarian grants them ('all persons') rights. Con's own theorists rebut him, denying that the ability to assume responsibility is necessary and denying that only participants in the contract get rights. (b) Even if it is a contract, why can't non-parties get rights? The constitution is a contract among U.S. citizens, yet legal protections are afforded to non-citizens.

2. Promises should be kept when the promisee has an interest in it. If you promise to help me with homework, it would be wrong to not keep the promise, because I have an interest in your keeping it, and you imposed on yourself an obligation, via the promise, to protect/further that interest. Animals have interests; if I bequeath money to my animal, "the trustee of more than a mere custodian of the animal...Rather his job is to look out for the interests [and good] of the animal." [9] Both the animal and I have interests/goods to advance.

3. I am not conflating them. I am arguing that if the law promises X, justice must require X lest we break our promises, which is unjust. As I said, promises ought to be kept "unless they promise to do something clearly immoral." Con hasn't shown AR to be immoral.

4. Con drops that the law makes promises to animals.

C3. Marginal Cases

Hold Con to universal rights; his 3 advocacies call for it: the religion argument grants "universal" human rights; the justification argument protects "human beings," not "rational human beings;" and Rawls gives rights to "all persons." Con also says: "the status quo gives severely retarded infants rights." Con wants to defend the status quo; he must defend rights for that infant while denying rights for animals.

Whether or not you buy that all human SUF, if you extend rights to all humans, justice/fairness requires that you also extend rights to all animals, because there is no non-arbitrary line to be drawn that gives all humans rights but denies them to all animals.

Turn: Con says treat equals equally. He gives rights to "all persons," yet at least some animals are more intelligent/able to SUF than some people (e.g. Chimps vs. severely mentally ill). This treats animals as unequal when they're not.

The limiting principle is the presence of a morally relevant difference, e.g. SUF, sentience, consciousness. Absent a relevant difference, it's arbitrary.

If we're giving out rights on the basis of the capacity to justify/enter contracts, why not just rights to "rational humans" vs. the "human species?" Con's basic logic is that we should prioritize groups closer to us, but (a) he gives no warrant why that's moral, and (b) members of the rational human community are closer than members of humanity at large. Con's reasoning as to where to draw the line is arbitrary and biased. Why, should we not instead draw the line at mammals, as only mammals enter contracts?


Con assumes that AR denies humans their dues. But, I've shown AR doesn't necessarily conflict with human rights, and Con hasn't shown that humans are due ownership of animals. As Con hasn't shown humans will lose dues as a result of AR, my underview stands. Much of the other stuff I rebutted earlier, so cross-apply.

Don't let FT make new arguments or address dropped points, as I'd have no chance to reply. And, we should each defend a consistent advocacy to avoid goalpost-shifting, character skews, etc.


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The purpose of assigning burdens is to resolve disputes. The law assigns burdens, science assigns burdens, and philosophy assigns burdens. So too should debate. After all, the purpose of debate is to decide issues, not to leave them open.

And it shouldn’t matter if the topic is normative. The law places the burden on those trying to justify new rights. And philosophy places it on those trying to justify any rights. Why should burdens operate differently in a debate?

The burden is typically placed on those supporting change, because there is substantial uncertainty in any change, including unpredictable costs. Recognizing animal rights would undoubtedly change our society. Pro admits that animal rights would impose new restrictions on humans. And Pro admits animals can’t be held responsible for their actions (effectively admitting that animal rights create an asymmetry under the law).

Unlike Pro, my position doesn’t require any change. Even if my frameworks don’t require universal rights, that doesn’t mean they prohibit such rights.

[Note: shared burdens is inconsistent with Pro’s position on presumptions – because presuming animal rights is no different than putting the burden on Con.]


The kettle fallacy only applies when claiming two inconsistent reasons apply simultaneously (and hence refute each other). But I never argued my frameworks apply together. Each framework negates the resolution independently.

Since my burden isn't to show which framework is best, and since I don't know which is best, I show that it doesn't matter which framework you apply: neither requires animal rights.

These frameworks are the only non-arbitrary justifications for human rights in our postmodern world. Since rationality alone cannot justify universal values, rights don't exist as objective truths independent of beings who intentionally (and subjectively) create or agree to them. Thus, any rights must come from God (i.e. faith) or humans (i.e. an intersubjective consensus).
So the frameworks don’t actually refute each other. They apply the same logic but draw different conclusions.

[Note: I don't argue that utility justifies rights.]

(1) Faith

If only faith justifies rights, justice allows animal rights. But that's irrelevant – because the issue is whether justice requires animal rights.

Many religions don’t recognize animal rights (and in fact recognize human dominion over animals). Pro hasn’t argued that justice prohibits these religions. So justice allows these religions. And if justice allows these religions, justice doesn’t require animal rights.

True, not all faiths grant universal human rights. So what? If faith is the only viable justification for universal rights, it doesn't matter if some faiths don't justify universal rights.

And, Pro’s observation begs the question, why does justice require universal rights?

(2) Rawls

(a) Rawls doesn't prohibit animal cruelty. But that doesn’t mean the law can't. The law often prohibits things on the basis of utilitarian calculations even though justice doesn’t require such prohibitions.

(b) From Pro’s source: “The answer is that we do not need to know everything about ourselves to make rational decisions about the background conditions needed to pursue our primary purposes.” Persons in the original position “know that they require an adequate share of primary social goods (rights and liberties, powers and opportunities, and income and wealth) to effectively pursue their purposes, whatever they may be.” This knowledge is enough to make a rational choice. [Pro’s 21]

(c) The original position imposes constraints on individuals in such a way that there is only one possible conclusion that every individual in the original position will reach. This allows an intersubjective consensus. And that consensus forms a non-arbitrary basis for human rights. Of course, no consensus forms around animal rights, so animal rights aren’t required.

(d) The original position inherently excludes animals because they aren't rational or moral beings. Animals lack the ability to even know what rights are, let alone recognize or agree to them.

(e) Since individuals in the original position don't know their lot in life, they'll want to make sure they receive rights even if they're severely retarded. This justifies universal human rights.

(3) Forst

There are no universal values. No social relation is beyond justification to someone. Thus, Forst argued that justice requires that norms be “reciprocally and generally valid and binding with reasons that aren’t based on contested ‘higher’ truths or conceptions of the good that can reasonably be questioned and rejected.” So a justification is “adequate” if it’s “reciprocal” and “general.”

“Reciprocity” means “that neither party makes any claim to certain rights or resources that are denied to others (reciprocity of content) and that neither party projects its own reasons (values, interests, needs) onto others in arguing for its claims (reciprocity of reasons).”

“Generality” means “that the reasons for such norms need to be shareable among all persons affected, not just the dominant parties.”

These requirements aren’t vague. They’re procedures that establish binding moral norms through universal acceptance. But the only way for justice claims to be unversally accepted is if they’re universally reasonable (i.e. reciprocal and general). The right to justification thus allows people to pursue their own view of the good life up until the point where interfering with someone else’s view of the good life cannot be justified reciprocally and generally.

Pro asks why justifications must be reciprocal. Because it's necessary to establish an intersubjective consensus. Because virtually every theory of justice requires reciprocity. And because reciprocity ensures that norms aren't arbitrary. If no counterreasons speak against a norm, it means not only that you should adhere to the norm, but also that you can demand its observance by others (i.e. reciprocity). In short, justice requires reciprocity, fairness requires reciprocity, and non-arbitrariness requires reciprocity.

(c) Animals can’t justify their actions because they don’t have language or self-reflexive knowledge of morality. But even if animals could justify, they can’t demand justifications, understand justifications, veto justifications, or take responsibility for their actions. “A moral person must be able to take responsibility for his or her actions” (emphasis in the original). So animals aren’t moral persons.

[Quotes from 4]


(1) Pro drops my attack on utilitarian justifications for rights. And Pro admits that utilitarian concerns are relevant to justice.

(2) Pro’s C3 extends all universal human rights to animals. And Pro’s C1 suggests the same: If, as Pro says, “all rights are designed to insulate people from being the victims of [needless] suffering,” and “any agent that can experience needless suffering deserves rights protecting them from it,” why not give animals all these rights? So, yes, Pro advocates sweeping new rights for animals.

(3) Animals aren't due equal consideration because they aren't morally equivalent to humans. Humans are unique. After all, what other species blushes, has five-year plans, moves around the world simply for a change in scenery, cooks its food, clothes itself, seeks entertainment, shows concern about the welfare of other species, “builds civilizations, records history, creates art, makes music, thinks abstractly, communicates in language, envisions and fabricates machinery, improves life through science and engineering, or explores the deeper truths found in philosophy and religion?” [5] None. And even if not all humans actively embody these capacities, only humans can embody them. Animals never embody them; the vast majority of humans do.

Judge Richard Posner clarifies the absurdity of equal consideration: “Suppose a dog menaced a human infant and the only way to prevent the dog from biting the infant was to inflict severe pain on the dog—more pain, in fact, than the bite would inflict on the infant. [Pro] would have to say, let the dog bite, for [Pro's] position is that if an animal feels pain, the pain matters as much as it does when a human being feels pain, provided the pain is as great; and it matters more if it is greater. But any normal person ... would say that it would be monstrous to spare the dog, even though to do so would minimize the sum of pain in the world.” [5]

(4) Pro’s demand for 100% certainty in disease models is a utopian fantasy. In isolated cases, substitutes might be better. But those are isolated cases, and they’re still nowhere close to Pro’s impossible standard of accuracy. On balance, animal research lets us do things that we can’t do in humans, and thus discover things that can’t be discovered using just cell culture or human experimentation. For instance, seminal observations about tumor angiogenesis would have been virtually impossible without animal models, because angiogenesis requires an interaction between tumor cells, cells in blood vessels, and the surrounding tissue stroma. [6]

(5) No limiting principle means no slippery slope fallacy – so the risks are real. If we can violate animal rights, why not human rights? If the standard for animals is low, why not lower it for humans?

(6) Re: judicial system Pro's response is yet another utopian fantasy resting on bare assertions. Courts can't even handle the status quo, so pragmatic concerns inevitably end up outweighing justice, leading to many unjust results. Adding billions of new plaintiffs means even more emphasis on pragmatism over justice.

(7) The harms are clear. But what is the unique benefit of animal rights?
Why extend rights to animals when the law can protect them through other avenues (e.g. legal prohibitions, flexible regulations, and so on)? If animal welfare regulations were less harmful than rigid rights, would justice even allow animal rights?




Debate Round No. 4


Thanks for a steller debate, FT!


Con argues the purpose of BOP is resolving disputes. (a) Con gives us zero reason to believe a shared BOP would prevent us from resolving this dispute. (b) The purpose of BOP is also to ensure fairness in argumentation; it's unfair to require a debater to prove a negative in fact resolutions. However, this fairness justification vanishes in normative topics; Con dropped my reasons for this. Hence, there is no reason why a shared BOP is inappropriate here.

Re: uncertainty--(a) Con drops that many countries recognize AR, so having AR is not a (major) change to the status quo. (b) the uncertainty claim is one against taking risks, but, theoretically, the risk is the same either way. When given the option between G (status quo) and H, and three outcomes (better, worse, same), G and H each have a 33% chance of being worse, better, or the same as each other. That is why we, as debaters, should have an equal BOP: we have an equal starting point. It is our job from there to show why our world is then better. The status-quo isn't self-justifying. (c) Con dropped my R3 argument that the status quo recognizes rights for all humans. Con's frameworks' thresholds deny rights to all humans. If you must be able to consent or justify to have rights, justice requires that you deny some humans rights. Either that, or all Con's "you must be responsible to have rights" assertions go out the window. Also, if you must be in faith X for faith X to give you rights, faith X requires you deny rights to outsiders. Ergo, Con's frameworks absolutely prohibit rights for people who don't pass their criteria. Con is making an affirmative argument to change the status quo = shared BOP.



Suppose I say: "the sky isn't blue, it's red," "the sky isn't blue, it's pink," and "the sky isn't blue, it's white." Even if they're independent, they can be turned on each other: "the sky can't be pink, as you say it's red, and it can't be red, as you say it's white," etc. If the theories contradict: (a) Con's theories turn against each other (Rawls refutes religion, religion refutes Forst, etc.). (b) It's utterly unclear what Con's is actually advocating.

Con drops my specific analysis why his theories contradict. Rawls and Forst argue that actors must be capable of consent/justification to have rights; religion disagrees, since God can/does grant rights to those unable to consent/justify. Rawls and Forst conflict because one requires active volition, the other mere capacity, and because one sets a lower bar than the other. These 3 frameworks reach different conclusions on who gets rights and why, and so they cannot coexist.

Turn: Con admits rationality alone cannot justify universal rights, defeating Rawls and Forst, who use rationality thresholds. Also, as Con has part of the BOP, he needed to justify his positions; his failure to do so necessarily dooms his case.

1. Faith

(a) Con wrote: "whether justice requires extending rights to animals depends on why humans have rights in the first place." Con's logic, then, was that if his theory required rights for X, justice required rights for X. The theories themselves require rights for agents based on their consent/justificational capacity/God-given status. Therefore, if religion requires AR, so does justice. Ahimsa requires animal rights [19], and Con hasn't argued that justice prohibits Hinduism, et al. So, either (a) religion has internal conflict in determining what rights are required, making it a faulty standard, or (b) it requires AR.

(b) Faiths disagree re: what universal rights are required (if any). If faith is going to be the threshold for rights, it should be free of internal contradictions so it can be fairly/evenly applied, and so we can successfully use it to test potential rights. As different religions give conflicting verdicts, it fails as a standard.

2. Rawls

(a) The card I cite notes that Rawls actually requires that there not be laws against animal cruelty, because such laws conflict with Rawls's belief that people should be able to pursue their reasonable conceptions of the good. Rawls prohibits prohibitions on animal cruelty. Insofar as Con repeatedly calls for laws against animal cruelty, he contradicts his own framework and denies a fundamental tenet of Rawlsian philosophy, calling into question the whole validity of Rawls's philosophic model.

(b) "They know only characteristics and interests they have in their capacity as moral persons..their need for the primary social goods, and so on." [21] This is hardly enough information to make rational choices in constructing an ethical system, and necessarily excludes information about the complexities of human life, which can pose a challenge to any ethical system.

(c/d/e) People in the original position won't necessarily reach one conclusion. Rawls assumes people will act rationally, but people don't do that; some will gamble, some will have different thought-processes, some will act on intuition not rationality, etc. And, even if there is a consensus, that consensus is only impartial, not non-arbitrary, since it can still lack fair reasoning.

3. Forst

(a) There are universal values; Forst says justifications must be "valid and binding with reasons that aren't based on...conceptions of the good that can reasonably be questioned," like faith. So, there are still values that we use to justify things, they just must be beyond reproach. The presence of these values means that my 3 objections still apply, since values/reasons must (a) be justified by something else if they are to be valid (infinitely regressive), and (b) can still be contorted to serve any purpose. Re: (c), justice arises from justification, but justice must also justify justification, since justice is likely one of these conceptions of the good that cannot reasonably be rejected.

(c) Con says animals lack knowledge of morality, yet moral sentiments (e.g. guilt, empathy) are clearly present in animals, e.g. elephants, chimps, dogs, and expressed via body language. [27, 28, 29] I see no reason why an animal cannot justify itself or demand justification through its body language (Levinas argues that displays of distress trigger our empathy and demand of us action). It is also possible that animals can understand the justifications of others via body language.



C3 or C1 don't give animals equal rights. C3 would give them rights on par with the rights of humans at the animal's level. We don't give infants voting rights, but we give them a variety of other protections, which animals at an infant's level should also get. Same re: C1; animals should get rights comparable to people who can suffer like them, since not all people suffer alike. Con drops point 2. Since he only considers human's preferences, his utility calculations are flawed.


(1/3) I didn't drop the justification for rights. I said utility actually grants a basic and inalienable (not case-by-case) right to have preferences weighed equally. Con says animal's aren't due equal consideration, but his reasoning for that isn't utilitarian, and so cannot apply under a utilitarian model. Pro's dog example is merely an appeal to emotion. Turn: If you buy this attack, then we shouldn't be considering Con's utility args at all as they could justify wrongs to for a greater good. I also never said utility factored into justice.

(4) Con sites 1 cherry-picked example of testing on animals. I cite, among other studies, an analysis of 4,000 studies that concluded animal testing isn't efficacious. Prefer my evidence; it's more comprehensive. On balance, it doesn't work + alternatives exist. Plus, if we use utility, animals could still be tested if the benefits for all (humans + animals) outweighed.

(5) Con's given little evidence to support a slippery slope, but I've given you some to disprove it: "Humans have already learned the dangers of treating themselves as oppressed blacks more rights didn't cause whites to treat themselves more like oppressed blacks."

(6) Con never considers whether the money earned may be an economic positive. Thus, we cannot be sure that the situation will be as dire as Con says. And what if we grant animals moral, vice legal, rights?

(7) Con drops 4, 5, 6 to instead ask rhetorical questions.


1. Kettle Logic

Con's frameworks are self-refuting and vague. You cannot know what his threshold actually is. Prefer my case, because you actually can know what threshold you're voting.

2. The Frameworks

Religion is too contradictory to be a successful standard. Con contradicts Rawls, voiding one of Rawls's essential premises. And, Forst fails for 3 reasons, plus it's possible animals can justify.

3. BOP

Con shares the BOP. Since he fails to justify and explain why we should adopt any of his frameworks, he's failed to meet his BOP.

4. Turns

Con says rationality alone can't justify rights (yet Rawls + Forst rely on rationality); his dog arg precludes utility discussions; + Aristotle backs fairness.

5. Fairness

I've show this is the best way to decide who is due what.

6. The Law

The law makes promises to animals which are their dues. It would be unjust to deny them.

7. Needless Suffering

Con misunderstood my arg + his rebuttals were under-warranted. I showed that agents are due freedom from NS, and that animals can undergo NS.

8. Marginal Cases

Whether or not you buy all humans suffer, if you extend rights to all humans as Con does, justice/fairness requires that you also extend rights to all animals. Con's line is arbitrary--if rationality is what matters, why not give rights just to rational humans? Why not be more/less inclusive? Con gives no good reason to draw the line where he does.


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Thank you for reading! Long Live the Elephants! Please VOTE PRO!



Pro admits the purpose of assigning burdens is to resolve disputes. Shared proof burdens allow ties. And ties don’t resolve disputes.

The burden is typically placed on those arguing for change because change involves more uncertainty than the status quo. That’s why the law puts the burden on those justifying new rights (a point Pro drops).

I don’t argue for change – because my frameworks don't prohibit universal rights. So justice neither requires nor prohibits the status quo.

Pro admits he’s arguing for change, as only a tiny fraction of countries currently recognize animal rights. So the burden of proof should be on Pro.

And note: Pro dropped his underview after I exposed its inconsistency with shared burdens. So whatever you do, don’t presume animal rights. If anything, presume Con, because depriving humans of their dues is more unjust than depriving animals of their dues.


I accept Pro’s definition of non-arbitrariness. It dooms his case.

Pro’s C1

(1) Pro drops my argument that animals can’t experience needless suffering because animals can’t experience (or even understand) needlessness. The concept is inherently humancentric. Remember, humans decide when suffering is needless. And humans decide what the standard is. And those determinations are ultimately arbitrary, because no objective mechanism exists for distinguishing needless suffering from reasonable suffering. And those arbitrary determinations are then imposed on animals by humans.

(2) Pro admits that a needless suffering right will lead to different results for similarly situated individuals, based on the biases of the specific judge in each case. Different results for similarly situated individuals is arbitrary. Justice cannot allow such a system, let alone require it.

(3) Pro’s justification is self-refuting because it’s both consequentialist and deontological. It’s deontological because it justifies animal rights as intrinsic goods based on a capacity to experience suffering. It’s consequentialist because it justifies human rights as instrumental goods that prevent needless suffering – and the concept of needless suffering is inherently utilitarian. No suffering is absolutely gratuitous because even the sadist has reasons for inflicting suffering (e.g. she derives pleasure from it). So “needless suffering” is an entirely meaningless concept unless you measure/weigh the reasonableness of the suffering (i.e. the value it provides vs the harm it inflicts). Of course, that weighing is arbitrary and insufficient to justify rights. And just because Pro says his framework isn’t utilitarian, deontological, or humancentric doesn’t mean it’s not – Pro’s self-descriptions simply aren’t consistent with his actual argument.

Pro’s C2

(1) Pro drops my example of unjust laws, which shows that the law’s promises aren’t required by justice. The law is inherently arbitrary: it’s determined by some humans, not necessarily the majority, in a particular time and place. So you can’t derive the requirements of justice from the law – because requirements are necessary whereas the law is contingent (and therefore arbitrary).

(2) Pro admits that animals neither rely on nor give consideration for any promises. So there’s no harm to breaking such promises. Animals certainly won’t know the difference. There might even be an obligation to break our promises if breaking the promise is efficient (i.e. it produces a net benefit).

Pro’s response isn’t compelling – his “interest” standard is vague (what’s an interest?), arbitrary (different people will have different interests), unsubstantiated (what do arbitrary interests have to do with the requirements of justice?), and humancentric (again, Pro imposes arbitrary human interpretations on animals). Pro offers no evidence that animals have non-arbitrary interests. How do humans even know what animals as a group want? And why should these arbitrary human-imposed animal interests outweigh the human interests in breaking a promise? Pro offers no answers.

Pro’s C3

(1) Pro’s advocacy is inconsistent. When talking about burdens, Pro says my frameworks deny universal rights. But when it comes to C3, Pro says my advocacy requires universal rights. Which is it? Neither. I argue that justice doesn’t require or prohibit the status quo.

(2) Pro says the status quo isn’t self-justifying and Pro argues to change the status quo. So don’t let Pro base his argument on the status quo without first justifying the status quo.

(3) Showing that justice requires animal rights in the status quo doesn’t show that justice requires the status quo. Remember, the status quo is contingent but requirements are necessary. So at most, Pro’s C3 only shows that justice allows animal rights, not that it requires them. This is consistent with my rights frameworks.

(4) Even if my advocacy somehow requires universal rights, that doesn’t justify animal rights. Rawls and Forst justify universal rights systems without animal rights. And Pro drops membership in a species being relevant to justice. And Pro drops my points about the uniqueness of humans compared with animals (see R4's utility section). So there are non-arbitrary bases for distinguishing humans and animals.

What is my advoca

I argue that we live in a postmodern world where rationality alone cannot justify human rights. Rationality alone can't justify rights because rights aren't objective truths that exist independent of beings who intentionally/subjectively create them. That leaves only two options for justifying rights: faith or consensus.

Pro drops my point that rationality alone cannot justify human rights. In fact, Pro somehow thinks it was his argument: "Con admits rationality alone cannot justify universal rights." This concession is fatal to Pro’s entire case, because none of Pro’s justifications rest on faith or consensus. In effect, then, Pro concedes that his own justifications are arbitrary/insufficient.

In Pro's wake, I offer three potential frameworks, one based on faith, two based on consensus. These frameworks are the only viable justifications for human rights. All other justifications are arbitrary/insufficient because they rest solely on rationality, which Pro admits isn't sufficient to justify rights. So justice only allows rights through one of my frameworks.

Pro argues that Rawls/Forst rely on rationality. But that's not true. Rawls and Forst justify rights through an intersubjective consensus. While rationality might play a role in creating a consensus, it's neither necessary nor sufficient.

Pro's "kettle" criticism isn't compelling because each framework is self-contained. There wasn't an agreed-upon framework in this debate, so any number of frameworks were up for debate. That's why I said they negate independently.

Remember, I only need to show that justice doesn't require animal rights. And showing that the only viable justifications for rights don't require animal rights meets that burden without needing to show which framework actually applies. In other words, I argue that justice doesn't require animal rights because justice is only possible through one of these frameworks.

[Note: Pro hasn't shown that justice requires any rights, so while justice obviously allows human rights, it doesn't necessarily require any rights frameworks. That's yet another reason to negate, or at least to presume Con.]


Pro argues that justice prohibits faith justifications because they produce inconsistent rights frameworks. Under a non-arbitrariness definition, that's a compelling argument. So I'm dropping faith.


(a) Rawls says animal rights aren't required. But Rawls doesn't prohibit humans from protecting animals. In fact, Pro's "card" admits that Rawls allows some protections for animals: "Rawls ... claim[s] that we have moral obligations to animals, including an obligation not to treat them cruelly." [Pro's 20]

(b/c/d/e) Bare assertions that rest on a misunderstanding of the original position. Pro incorrectly assumes it's not possible to come to a unified conclusion. And Pro says the consensus is arbitrary when the whole point is creating a non-arbitrary consensus via universal acceptance (i.e. the original position is a heuristic for establishing universal acceptance).


Pro's response misses the point.

In particular, Pro strawmans Forst's principle of justification, which requires more than mere body language.

Also: Forst says justificaiton requires the capacity of taking responsibility for their action. Since Pro drops my point that animals can't take responsibility for their actions, animals are excluded.


Pro offers no reason to give animals a right to equal consideration. It's just Pro's assertion. And it's not based on a utilitarian justification, as nothing Pro argued shows how a right to equal consideration will maximize utility. Nor is it based on faith/consensus. So it's not a valid justificaiton.

Pro hasn't shown animal suffering is equivalent in value to human suffering. It's not, because any value determinations are inherently humancentric, determined by humans, and thus inherently give humans greater value than animals. Ironically, Pro admits that animals shouldn't get "equal rights," which implies that animals are inferior to humans.

In short, Pro's advocacy ignores the uniqueness of humans, including the fact that humans alone make value determinations, humans alone make laws and enforce rights, and humans alone hold each other responsible for their actions.

Since Pro's responses aren't compelling, extend all my analysis and impacts.


Vote Con because Pro's justifications are arbitrary, humancentric, unjust, and incoherent, because Pro fails to justify any rights through faith or consensus, because animal rights would create an unfair asymmetry (since animals can't be held responsible for their actions), because the only viable justifications are Rawls/Forst, and because artificial human-imposed human-constructed rights for animals will inevitably lead to arbitrary and unjust results.

Debate Round No. 5
164 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by fire_wings 4 months ago
This should have been 150 comments, to make it match :(
Posted by bsh1 10 months ago
HOF Debate :)
Posted by Stupidape 10 months ago
Alright you convinced me you won bsh1. Now that I thoroughly read the r1 and understood what the topic was about. If you wanted to make the minimal effort all you had to do was prove that humans should have some rights, since humans are animals. Would have been interesting if Con would have taken the approach that no animals should have rights including humans.
Posted by bsh1 10 months ago

Any rights for animals are animal rights. Not all humans have voting rights, yet we talk meaningfully about "human rights" as those rights appropriate for most humans. "Animal rights" can thus mean rights that are appropriate for most animals. They don't have to be the same rights as those of humans.

And, again, FT didn't really make this argument that you're making now. If you had judged the debate, I would've critiqued your vote as unduly interventionist.
Posted by Stupidape 10 months ago
"Pro must only affirm that some animals are due rights"

Your right, I missed that. Never was one for bothering to read the rules. Hmmm, still it never was clear how many rights were needed to be proven. For example, reading the topic a person might infer that the debate was about voting rights for elephants.

I certainly was surprised when bsh1 stopped at needless suffering. I deliberately waited to after the voting, since I didn't want to influence the debate more than I already did.
Posted by bsh1 10 months ago

If you read rule 9 in R1, it says in part: "Pro must only affirm that some animals are due rights."

Furthermore, the right against suffering includes within it a lot of different rights (such as the right against torture, the right against inhumane testing, etc.) The fact is, FT never made the argument that I wasn't affirming enough rights, so, one cannot really consider that we evaluating the debate.

Still, it's a moot point, as voting has ended.
Posted by Stupidape 10 months ago
I've read through the debate several times. First, this debate wasn't what I expected at all. Before r2 was posted, I thought this was about giving voting rights to animals and the bill of rights, first 10 amendments, and the thirteenth amendment.

After reading Pro, bsh1's 2nd round I was confused. Bsh1 talked a lot about suffering, yet who cares. This is an argument for the status quo. We already have laws to protect against suffering.

As shown by my comments before r2 was started, I thought there would be chaos. All the animals would be let free under the 13th amendment. Sure, I have sympathy for animals, but this was a large change.

I also perceive that fourtrouble had the same view, from Con's r2 argument. "Indeed, Professor Epstein says there'd be "nothing left of human society if we treated animals not as property but as independent holders of rights." "

I felt too much attention was paid on suffering, and not enough on other rights by bsh1's argument. In fact, from reading the debate, it seemed that protection from suffering was the only right bsh1 attempted to make. Which makes me look back at the full resolution.

"Justice requires the recognition of animal rights."

I feel that simply recognizing protection against excessive suffering does not impact sufficiently to prove the resolution. That if this is all bsh1 had to prove that this should been explicitly explained in r1.

If the resolution was "Justice requires the recognition of protection of animals against excessive suffering", I would have felt Pro would have won. This was not the resolution. In brief, I did not feel that bsh1's argument matched the resolution, and instead fourtrouble's argument better matched the resolution.

Next, I felt that bsh1 cherry picked the evidence by using an elephant's intelligence. A chicken would have been a more middle of the road approach. How about insects? Nobody even mentioned honey bee's rights. I assume by animal right, it meant all a
Posted by tejretics 11 months ago
I've further updated my RFD after reading this debate again.
Posted by tejretics 11 months ago

I just did. My RFD seems to have lots of what Whiteflame covered (e.g. whether justice can "require" anything, similar analysis of utility). [Note: my RFD was updated yesterday to cover a lot more; my old RFD was lacking, but I don't think my new one is.]
Posted by Romanii 11 months ago
lol this comments section is more fun to read than the debate itself (which was really messy and hard to follow, btw). Also, +1 to the backlash against bsh1's round set-up :P
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by whiteflame 11 months ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: Given here:
Vote Placed by tejretics 11 months ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: RFD in Google document. PM me with any questions/concerns. Link follows:
Vote Placed by YYW 11 months ago
Who won the debate:Vote Checkmark-
Reasons for voting decision: Surprisingly clear win for bsh1. See RFD: