Are Human Rights Human?

Paola Cavalieri in Logos:

Cavalieri400x305pxThe history of what we call moral progress can for the most part be seen as the history of the substitution of hierarchical visions with presumptions in favor of equality. The recent irruption into the social scene of the animal question is part of this ongoing process–a process that is usually characterized by a direct challenge to the cultural status quo. In fact, in the last few decades, nonhuman animals have been the center of a lively philosophical debate, and many voices have been raised against our current treatment of the members of species other than our own. We routinely use nonhuman animals as mere commodities–we kill them for food, we use them in work and entertainment, we employ them as tools for research of all kinds. In short, we treat them in ways in which we would deem it profoundly unethical to treat human beings. Is this position morally defensible? And, if so, on which grounds? Since behind the present divergence in standards lies a deep-rooted philosophical tradition aiming at the exclusion of nonhuman beings from the protected sphere of ethics, it may be worth considering briefly how we got where we are.

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