This quote is from Ingrid Newkirk (sans the indignant “Really?” at the end). Most people will react to it with indignation bordering on revulsion bordering on outrage. However, it may not warrant such a strong response. As I have argued elsewhere (see You’re not as Crazy as I Think, chapter 9), Newkirk’s ecumenical message is that we ought to eliminate unnecessary suffering where possible whether it be a suffering rat or a suffering boy. I agree.
But if we want to take Newkirk’s quote in another direction so that it means a rat is morally equivalent to a boy, well then you’ve lost me.
Enter Stephen Maitzen who asks me:
why think that human beings, as such, have inherent worth not had by members of any other species? Why think that Terri Schiavo, with her liquified brain, had inherent worth not had by a normal chimpanzee or some intelligent alien? (Schiavo’s being loved by someone else doesn’t give her inherent worth, or else a goldfish has inherent worth because its owner loves it.) I see no reason other than species chauvinism. Species membership, as such, can’t possibly confer worth on a being.
Did you hear what Maitzen is saying? He seems to be taking the Newkirk quote in that outrageous direction. Species chauvinism! Before I critique this I have to wonder, does Maitzen really believe it?
If this claim is true then buying and eating a hot dog is the moral equivalent of buying and eating a Tutsi ground up and stuffed into a sausage casing. Does Maitzen really think that is true? Does he really think our tolerance of the former (hot dogs) over the latter (Tutsi sausages) is really nothing more than indefensible speciesism?
There is an old saying: show me what you believe by what you do. If Maitzen really believes such a striking moral claim then he is presumably acting on it. So is he protesting the local Safeway the same way he would be protesting a Hutu butcher that was selling Tutsi sausages?
I doubt it. Maitzen and I both live in Canada. If Maitzen was living out that claim consistently then I suspect I would have heard it in the media by now. (Headline: Radical Maritimes Philosophy Professor claims holocaust at Safeway.)
Until that headline appears I doubt that Maitzen even believes his own claims. And if he doesn’t believe his own claims then why should anybody else?