The argument is based on the discrimination between people, and this argument has been extended to non-human animals which are as much terrestrial beings as humans are. The liberation movements have yielded golden results in different parts of the globe, be it the Apartheid or the ones that fought against foreign imperialism. Women got their right, but they had to wage a long standing battle to be finally considered at par with men. The darkly skinned people had to snatch their rights, and so was the case with those countries that were ruled by foreign power. The subject in question is whether animals should be treated at par with humans or not. This does not necessarily mean that they should be allowed to vote or be given currency to buy their food. It is the basic principles of equality that is being discussed.
There are two contradictory sides to this argument, each having its own set of reasons. Humans have evolved into their present self and as such live in a society that is yet to be discovered in animals. There is a general consensus to which every human has come, and we live in a peaceful way with cooperation and understanding. Needless to say, it is impossible to understand and comprehend animals and their thinking. However, the fact remains that animals are beings on this earth who deserve every bit of this planet as we do. The fact that we kill them because we like to have them for dinner or keep them in cages because of entertainment in itself is an inhuman act. By treating them equally it does not necessarily mean that they should be seated alongside us during dinner, or that they should be allowed inside cinema halls. The basic principles of equality are being touched upon which include freedom of movement, right to live, right to be entertained in their own way, etc. If we carefully examine each of these aspects, we shall find that we live and move about at the expense of these animals wherein we are the ones who cage them and feast on them. If humans are to kill animals and eat them, hardly is there any culinary difference between a man and an animal.
If one were to argue that animals do not have the aptitude and ability to be at par with the highly intelligent human race, it should be noted that morality, physical strength, intelligence, etc. are not factors that determine equality. It is a mere tradition that has blindfolded us into believing that human beings are the most superior creatures on this planet. It is high time that we give animals their due by treating them as equals. There was a time when dinosaurs dominated this planet. We do not know the future of this planet and the creatures that shall take to it. Therefore, sustainable existence and development can be brought about by cooperating not just with opposite genders, castes and creed but also animals.
The argument presented in the above discussion can be countered on various levels. I would like to focus on the idea that first, humans are not superior; second, it may seem plausible that since humans are also animals therefore human rights are applicable to animal rights i.e. A has X, A=B therefore, B must also have X, but a corollary of the same ideas i.e. Y is allowed to B, B=A, therefore Y should also be allowed to A, is quite not acceptable.
A counter-argument can be made from the claim that human beings are not akin to animals. If so, then eating habits of animals, that those who are omnivorous eat both plants and animals and the stronger animal lives by eating, the weaker one and that since humans have emerged to be stronger ones, therefore, they have the power to live and eat as they want must be plausible.
Further, animals do not worry about the questions of morals and values like justice and peace, which are humane values, therefore why should these humane values be kept at a higher pedestrian than being an animal. But if these human values are to be kept at a higher pedestrian, then one has to acknowledge the difference between plants and animals. One cannot fight for others until one fight for oneself first, thus, in the fight for equality humans are surely higher than animals. Here one seems to agree withTaylor that other animals “well-being posits no moral requirement on us. In this respect, there is an absolute difference in moral status between ourselves and them”.
Third, since different animal species have different nature, and we accept them as they are instinctive, therefore, the questions like what is the essential nature of human beings and why to educate and socialize them in ways that take them away from their animalistic instinctive nature arise. Here one has to accept that it is a human capability to transform and move away from their instinctive nature. But if it is being done, then the superiority of humans over animals has to be accepted.
Fourth, if one accepts that the ideas like human superiority over animals is a socio-cultural created idea, one may also say that since the idea of equality itself is socio-cultural therefore, it is a myth. Thus, all such attempts are also in the end confirming the patronizing self-aggrandizing needs of intellectuals and some activist groups.
Fifth, if at all we are speaking of equality between animals and humans by positing that humans are also animals then why should their rights be different from those of dogs and pigs, then one may argue that humans, animals, and plants all are beings; therefore, they all must have similar rights and just like one human cannot eat another human, therefore, a being must not eat another being. This may sound logically coherent but is only a possibility when one starts living on fallen fruits and ripe roots so that do not get decomposed, but also they are not pluck from trees as they may feel pain. Even herbs, shrubs, and plantations than are not to be cut before they fall themselves. Here not even killing of a mad animal or a human-eater or cutting of a single tree be allowed similar to the idea that capital punishment is a violation of human rights. This point has been taken up by to argue for natural rights of plants.
Lastly, Hillix & Rumbaugh attempt to argue on the basis of Premack’s work that since humans and animals are not in concentric circles but overlapping circles therefore “each has unique elements not shared by others”, therefore, humans cannot be called as superior to animals. But at the same time all those norms of equality that humans apply for other humans as well cannot be straight-away applied on animals as well.
Hillix, W. & Rumbaugh, D., 2004. Chimpanzees can Write with Plastic Symbols. In: Animal Bodies, Human Minds: Ape, Dolphin, and Parrot Language Skills: Ape, Dolphin, and Parrot Language Skills. s.l.:Springer, pp. 119-124.
Norton, B. G., 1982. Environmental Ethics and Nonhuman Rights. Environmental Ethics, Spring , 4(1), pp. 17-36.
Premack, D., 1988. Minds with and without language. In: L. Weiskrantz, ed. Thought without language. New York: Clarendon Press/ Oxford University Press, pp. 46-65.
Taylor, P. W., 1992. . The Ethics of Respect for Nature. In: E. C. Hargrove, ed. The Animal Rights/ Environmental Ethics Debate: The Environmental Perspective. USA: SUNY Press, pp. 95-120.