Nowadays, the idea of equality of all species gains support at many levels and embraces not only cruelty to animals but issues of neglect as well. While most people agree that cruelty and suffering should be shied away from, it is still imperative to make a difference between people and animals in other issues. The article “Speciesism and the Idea of Equality” states that humanity should treat all species equally because all species can suffer equally from mistreatment. While the idea sounds good, its fulfillment is not possible due to the natural preference all species give to their kind. The article “Species equality and the foundations of moral theory” serves to refute the grounds on which equality of species rests and applies moral theory to support the author’s arguments.
Equality of species is a concept that appeals to many people since it lies in line with humanity’s consideration of the environment and biodiversity in general. Steinbock (2013), in his article, states that the equality of species should be supported at all levels, not only banning cruel experiments on animals but treating them as equal to humans in all other spheres as well. The author’s argument supports his claim that all species feel suffering and pain equally and have similar feelings in similar situations, be those of neglect, illness, or malnutrition (Steinbock). The author claims that mental capacities should not be the basis for preferential treatment; instead, all species should enjoy equal rights regardless of how much they understand. While this essay does not support the claim of mental superiority as a basis for the mistreatment of other species, it still draws a clear demarcation line between humans and non-humans. Several counterarguments can be singled out to state that the equality of species is a myth that has very little to do with the reality of life.
The first argument against the equality of species lies in the fact that the planet’s resources are scarce, and it is impossible to satisfy all demands with our resources. The population of Earth is constantly growing, and food and water shortages are already felt in many parts of the world. Anderson (1993) states that preferential treatment stems from the impossibility of making all species happy with the planet’s resources. Moreover, competition and the fight for survival are inherent parts of the natural environment and appeared long before humans first made their steps on planet Earth. Hence, nature itself meant the strongest to survive and the weakest to die, and whatever we humans do, there will still be predators and herbivores who do not enjoy equal treatment in nature. Andersen (1993) claims that competition is an inherent part of biodiversity, which allows all species to add to the functioning of the environment in their way. Lastly, all species have a preference for their kind. This preference shows in how people and animals take care of their kin, providing youngsters with food, drink, protection, and love.
The moral theory that supports the issue of species inequality is the natural law theory. To apply this theory, it is necessary to state the doer of the action, see whether an action is permissible, and determine the benefits and harms associated with the action. In the issue of diversity of species, the doer of the action is humanity itself, as these are people who often ‘mistreat’ animals and plants. The action is permissible since here, not only cruelty to animals is meant but also issues of malnutrition and neglect that fall outside the scope of rules regulating experiments on animals.
The benefits of the action lie in the fact that in the situation of the scarcity of recourses, species inequality allows humans to meet their demands. Using plants and animals, people take care of the human race, feeding children, providing shelter for people, and seeing to it that every person’s life is a bit better. If humanity treated all species equally, there would be considerably less food that humans could provide for their kind. The second benefit is associated with the fact that species inequality is a built-in mechanism regulating biodiversity on Earth long before the human race came into existence. If humans take pains to disrupt this, no one knows what harsh circumstances this disruption may lead to. The harms that stem from the inequality of species is suffering to animals and plants and the risk of extinction of many endangered species. Nowadays, many laws have been adopted to minimize these harms and protect all species, so it can be said that the benefits of providing a better life for every person outweigh these harms. So, according to natural law theory, species inequality is justified and supports the balance of life on planet Earth.
Anderson, James C. “Species Equality and the Foundations of Moral Theory.” Environmental Values vol. 2, 4, 1993, pp. 347-365.
Steinbock, Bonnie. “Speciesism and the Idea of Equality.” Philosophy, vol. 56, no. 204, 1978, pp. 247–56. Rpt. in Doing Ethics: Moral Reasoning and Contemporary Issues. 3rd ed. Lewis Vaughn. New York: Norton, 2013, pp. 585–91.