“Animals are less valuable than human beings,” says John Martin, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at University College London (UCL). This seemingly uncontroversial statement is under fire, as Helene Guldberg at sp!ked writes, “There seems to be an emerging consensus within the scientific community that we should reject the philosophical outlook that says humans are ‘categorically superior’ to animals.”
For many philosophers, the consideration that may loom largest here is the stubborn conviction that the lives of normal humans must be of greater value than the lives of many, if not all, nonhuman animals. Perhaps that conviction is unjustified; it has not yet been very satisfyingly defended. (David DeGrazia, Taking Animals Seriously: Mental Life and Moral Status [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], 248)
Princeton bioethicist Peter Singer is famous for equating the moral value of animals with newborn human beings, although he claims that “the aim of my argument is to elevate the status of animals rather than to lower the status of any humans” (Practical Ethics, p. 77).
In defending the position that humans are to be valued more than animals, Martin asks the right question: “What is a human being?” He argues that the answer “requires both a biological and a philosophical analysis – in tandem,” and that “what sets us apart from all other animals… is our ability to generate creative, abstract thought – ‘and with that, poetry, music and the social networks that bind us together’.” In this, Martin is partly right. But the answer to his question needs a theological as well as biological and philosophical analysis. (more…)