Not a week goes by that somebody, somewhere doesn’t raise arguments against (or in favor of) so-called secular humanism. It’s a favorite whipping boy for plenty of politicians, yet despite the demonization, few people—even those ostensibly professing beliefs consistent with humanism—can cogently define its philosophy.
In an intriguing commentary titled, “The Humanist View of Animal Rights,” Peg Tittle, a columnist and author of the book, “Critical Thinking: An Appeal to Reason,” provides a succinct definition: “Humanists have faith, not in a supernatural being, but in human beings. Humanists look to scientific inquiry and reason for the solution of human problems, a critical difference from people professing a belief in the supernatural and in revealed truth.”
That description represents the worldview of plenty of people who might not otherwise describe themselves as humanists. Thus, Tittle’s discussion of how that perspective impacts the debate over animal rights merits consideration. As she noted, because the supernatural is irrelevant to humanists, so too are the four standard animal rights arguments, which include:
- Since man is made in God’s image, animals are subordinate to humans and thus have fewer—if any—rights
- Since God has given man dominion over the animals, he can do what he wants with them
- Since God gave man stewardship over animals, we are responsible for them and they do have rights
- Animal’s rights depend on whether or not they have souls
Dismissing those discussions—which in fact are central to virtually the entire debate over livestock production, medical research and hunting, Tittle rightly asks, What arguments about animal rights are relevant to humanists?Her answer: intrinsic arguments.
“Unlike instrumental arguments which grant rights to animals only insofar as they are of value to us, intrinsic arguments grant such rights on the basis of the animals themselves, independent of their relation to us,” she wrote. “Intrinsic arguments say there is something in and of the animal itself that justifies its rights.”
That interpretation mirrors exactly the basic thrust of the animal activist community, many of whom loudly profess a theological basis for their stance—which would seem to suggest that regardless of religious affiliation (or lack thereof), there is broad consensus for according animals exactly those intrinsic rights that would invalidate virtually all of animal agriculture.