Yesterday, whilst flying home from NYC, I posted about the debate I had with Gary Francione at Columbia. He has blogged on it too, allowing a look at his perspective. From his blog:
The thrust of Smith’s position is that according equal inherent value to animals threatens human exceptionalism, or the notion that humans are the measure of moral value. He characterizes animal rights as a misanthropic movement, citing PETA nonsense, MDA, etc.
I replied that human exceptionalism was similar to white exceptionalism, male exceptionalism, straight exceptionalism, etc. The issue is not whether admitting some group into the moral community will result in the existing members losing a position of superiority with respect to those who are excluded, but whether the exclusion can be justified in the first place. I argued that any such exclusion cannot be justified. I also argued that we could not judge the issue of animal rights based the positions of PETA, MDA advocates, etc. Smith’s response to all of this is to focus on the importance of moral agency as a criterion for membership in the moral community. Again, moral agency may be relevant for certain purposes but there is no logical relationship between the lack of moral agency and being treated as a resource. In fact, one might argue that we have greater duties to the vulnerable (children, the mentally disabled, nonhuman animals, etc.) precisely because of those vulnerabilities.
A good chunk of the questions, all of which were thoughtful, concerned whether we should focus on making animal use more “humane.” It is clear that the “happy” exploitation movement is having an impact. But it is also clear that when thoughtful people are confronted with the arguments about how the property status of animals necessarily limits the level of protection accorded animal interests, they “get it.”
I actually thought the students were quite skeptical of animal rights. But some, I should add, were skeptical of human exceptionalism.
I don’t think the debate was recorded. But we debated twice on the Michael Medved Show in connection with the release of my book. If you are interested in hearing us, hit this link.