Okay, this deviates a little from moral philosophy, but we had a debate in class the other day and had to write a reflection for it, so I thought it would be good to post that here.
I love debating philosophy. I really do. And actually, I find arguing for the less popular side the most fun whether it’s for or against what I believe. But today’s debate lined up well for me. I felt that even though I was on the side with five (versus 15), I was only saying things that lined up with my actual preferences. That being said, here’s my response:
Are human beings only animals?
I believe humans are only animals – albeit more developed and evolved animals. There is no higher power that makes us special, and there is nothing other than our biology that makes us human. Yes, we have the ability to think rationally, but, as I pointed out in the debate, so did our predecessors. There were arguments like, “But they were like us! We came from them, so isn’t it the same?” To that I’d like to say that yes, we came from them, but the argument is about humans, they weren’t humans. In fact, it is believed that our ancestors in a completely different genus had rational thought capabilities. So if that’s the only argument for us being different from animals, then it falls. There were also a lot of arguments about our intelligence and ability to build skyscrapers and planes. I’m not arguing against humans being smarter and more able than other animals. I just believe that it is our proportionately larger brains (developed through the completely natural process of evolution) that allow us to do these things, not some higher power or greater worth. People seemed to get stuck on this one. There was also a lot of conflict over worth: whether humans were worth the same as an animal. If so, it was argued, then humans shouldn’t kill other animals because we all have the same worth. I don’t believe that’s true. A good number of animals kill other animals for food. And, as I am arguing that humans are only animals, then it is completely natural and okay to eat other animals. As in animal societies, humans view other humans as being (more or less) equals because of their similar intelligence and less capable animals as not equals.
Do humans have intrinsic worth? Or are we only as valuable as our contribution to society?
Humans are not valued for the mere fact that they are human. We are valued for our contributions. Now you might call that cynical, but hear me out. Value is relative. What is valuable to me might not be valuable to you. That being said, the people we love contribute to us (our happiness, comfort, etc.), and thus, we value them. However, that does not mean that someone on the other side of the world will necessarily value your best friend. He/she has not done anything that might positively affect that other person and thus, your best friend has no worth to him. Whereas he might have a dog that he loves and values and might try to hurt your best friend if your best friend tried to do something to the dog. That is, the person would value his dog (something that contributes to his wellbeing) over your best friend (a human that does not contribute something to his personal wellbeing).
Do humans have inalienable rights? If so, where do they come from?
This idea of inalienable rights is distinctly western and modern. For thousands of years people did not have so-called inalienable rights, and many people in developing nations still don’t. This concept, once invented, was found to work pretty well, and thus adopted as a man-made entity. Although I do believe in inalienable rights, we were not inherently born with them. Try telling a hungry polar bear not to eat you because you are a human and thus have inalienable rights. Doesn’t work.
Are all human beings equal?
I believe that every human was born on equal footing – we all came out vulnerable, crying, and bloody. However, from that point on we started to distinguish ourselves from others. I think that the level a person is at is dependent on their intelligence and what they do with their life. As such, I don’t think everyone should be allowed the same privileges like voting and having babies.