No, the line is defined over time through social convention. I draw the line a humans, subjectively. I state the social contract in terms of its practice, not the theory behind it.
So you're not actually making an argument but reporting the status quo? I doubt anyone is mistaken about the de facto
moral status of nonhumans in current social practice, but thanks for informing us. However, you do realize that the current moral status of nonhumans is exactly what is in dispute here? In other words, simply reporting current social practice or legality does not absolve you from making a genuine moral argument (in a serious philosophy forum) about which entities should be entitled to moral consideration. Human slavery was once current practice, but no one really thinks that slavery is morally justifiable in modern society just
because it was once socially accepted. That's an odd form of begging the question. We're interested in the moral question
of nonhuman moral status--not the legal question
. The same goes for virtually any debate. For example, when philosophers discuss the moral question of abortion, they don't attempt to validate their claims by appealing to whatever the current legality, social practice, or consensus happens to be.
In the United State, I would be very unsatisfied with the results of breaking the established social contract.
Besides, this position of yours, if taken to its logical conclusion, actually commands your attention. Why? Almost everyone agrees that it is morally wrong to inflict unnecessary
suffering on nonhuman animals. Indeed, this moral rule is so uncontroversial that it is currently embodied in established anticruelty laws and other laws that regulate our treatment of nonhumans. According to the social contract, we are bound by these established laws. However, current social practices violate them everyday. Therefore, you do have reason to be "unsatisifed" about animal suffering. That said, no serious arguer in moral debates justifies his position on the basis of whether its propositions are reflected in the current legality/social practice.
Because thus far I see very few practical reasons not to eat meat.
It is also practical and rational for someone to violate the law when it suits their interests, provided that the threat of getting caught is minimal. Not much moral foundation for a social contract here. If you base the social contract on practicality instead of social justice
, you get moral freeloaders. But look, in the next sentence you say it's genetics, not practicality. Which is it, Zetetic? Let's have some consistency from you for a change.
I draw the line with genetics...
Okay, so now you want to arbitrarily draw the line at genetic humanity for inclusion in the moral sphere. This is speciesism, pure and simple. It is both morally and logically indistinguishable from the kind of justification that sought to prolong human slavery on the perceived basis that Africans were less intelligent than whites, or "subhuman." At least with characteristics like rationality and moral agency you have a prima facie defensible position. But it's not really
about genetics, is it? Even you can detect the weakness in that. No, it's about intelligence level now. Deny it? Your words say it all. Let's see...
...until it comes to pass that a highly advanced alien race comes to visit us.
So you have inserted yet another criterion into your quasi-argument: intelligence level (this is evident because you'll clearly make an exception for highly intelligent aliens who share no genetic relatedness with humans). Let's review this conceptual rollercoaster: you've denied that rationality or moral agency are relevant in social contracts because, apparently, reporting current practice is sufficient to make a convincing moral argument. So then you appeal to practicality as a moral compass, which is untenable, but wait, we're not done. In the following sentence you make the philosophically unmotivated case for genetic humanity (speciescism) as the morally relevant criterion. Perhaps "made the case for" is too generous here, you merely asserted it. Finally, you surreptitiously reinsert yet another criterion--intelligence level--for inclusion in the moral sphere. So which is it: rationality, moral agency, status quo, practicality, genetics, intelligence level? This is called the "moving target" fallacy.
Here's a useful analogy:
"Computers might be able to understand Chinese and think about numbers but cannot do the crucially human things, such as...." - and then follows his favorite human specialty - falling in love, having a sense of humor, etc. But as soon as an artificial intelligence simulation succeeds, a new "crucial" element is selected (the target is moved). Thus the perpetrators of this fallacy will never have to admit to the existence of artificial intelligence.The proponents keep changing their definition, presenting you always with a moving target of criteria that you can never get hold of. It's like trying to grasp the fog.
The moving target (i.e., moving criteria) fallacy is a fantastic way to shield your position from rational inquiry. Either way, my earlier objections still apply. If we set up intelligence level as the new criterion, we exclude many humans. Who judges what degree of intelligence is sufficient for moral consideration? Indeed, some nonhumans have greater intelligence levels than humans, such as newborns and mentally impaired adults. The speciesist strategy is an attempt to forestall further discussion--it isn't based on substantive reasoning, but bias. As you'll see below, I give reasons
for why sentience and interests are the morally relevant criteria for ethical consideration. I don't just air my moral opinions as assertions and leave it at that. You seem to be posting responses without serious thought beforehand. As we've seen, your position is largely inconsistent, is incoherent in places, and is poorly argued.
Lastly, suppose those aliens wanted to enslave you. What kind of appeal would you make in your defense? You'd state that your interests make you an object of moral concern,
not your genes or intelligence level. After all, the aliens are far more intelligent than you, and you don't share their genetic code. You could be their lunch.
...I think that it is perfectly fine to continue to use cows and chickens for meat, I think that it is wrong to torture them. I think that pigs are good for eating as well.
Merely reporting your dietary preferences does not an argument make.
...is it to be a crime that I step on a cockroach?
No, of course not. It is certainly true that if we as a society ever really accorded moral significance to animal interests and recognized our obligation to abolish and not merely regulate animal exploitation, we would very probably incorporate such a view in criminal laws that formally prohibit and punish the treatment of animals as resources. But that would not mean that we must punish the killing of an animal by a human in exactly the same way that we punish the killing of a human by another human. For example, our recognizing that animals have moral value does not require that we prosecute for manslaughter someone who, while driving recklessly, hits a raccoon. The prosecution of humans who kill other humans serves many purposes that are not relevant to animals. For example, criminal prosecutions allow the families of crime victims to experience some form of closure, and although there is ethological evidence that many nonhuman animals experience grief at the loss of family or pack members, a criminal trial would not be meaningful to them.
If you cannot draw the line at the top of the spectrum, you cannot very easily draw it at the bottom(or can you).
I draw the line at sentience because, as I have argued, sentient beings have interests and the possession of interests is the necessary and sufficient condition for membership in the moral community. Are insects sentient? Are they conscious beings with minds that experience pain and pleasure? I do not know. Neither do you. But the fact that we do not know exactly where to draw the line, or perhaps find drawing the line difficult (morality is never easy), does not preclude us from the obligation to draw the line somewhere or allow us to use animals as we please. Although I may not know whether insects are sentient, I do know that cows, pigs, chickens, chimpanzees, horses, deer, dogs, cats, and mice are sentient. Indeed, it is widely accepted that fish are sentient. So the fact that I do not know on what side of the line to place a particular species does not preclude me of my moral obligation to the animals whom I do know are sentient.
Consider this example: there is great deal of disagreement about the scope and extent of human rights. Some people argue that health care and education are fundamental rights that a civilized government should provide to everyone; some people argue that these are commodities like any other, not the subject of rights, and that people ought to pay for them. But we would, I suspect, all agree that whatever our disagreements about human rights--however unsure we are of where to draw the line--we most certainly agree, for instance, that genocide is morally wrong. We do not say that it is morally acceptable to kill off entire populations because we may disagree over whether humans are entitled to health care, or whether morality is "emotive". Similarly, our uncertainty or disagreement regarding the sentience of insects is no license to ignore the interests of chimpanzees, cows, pigs, chickens, and other species whom we do know are sentient.