ETHICS BEYOND SPECIES
AND BEYOND INSTINCTS
A Response to Richard Posner
I believe that ethical argument is and should be powerless against tenacious moral instincts.
— RICHARD POSNER, “Animal Rights: Legal, Philosophical, and Pragmatic Perspectives”
“Where might we go,” Richard Posner asks, “necessarily outside rather than inside law, for reasons for changing the law to entitle animals?” I begin by sketching my answer to that question—briefly, because I have done it at length in other writings. 1 Then I discuss Posner's contrasting views, both on the specific issue of the proper status of animals and on the wider question of the role that ethical argument should play in such questions.
Most people draw a sharp moral line between humans and other animals. Humans, they say, are infinitely more valuable than any “lower creatures.” If our interests conflict with those of animals, it is always their interests which should be sacrificed. But why should this be so? To say that everyone believes this is not enough to justify it. Until very recently it was the common view that a woman should obey her father, until she is married, and then her husband (and in some countries, this is still the prevailing view). Or, not quite so recently, but still not all that long ago, it was widely held that people of African descent could properly be enslaved. As these examples show, the fact that a view is widespread does not make it right. It may be an inde-