I’ve never understood the argument occasionally advanced that having moral concern for animals makes a person “anti-human.” Even considering the cases where an animal’s significant interests directly conflict with human significant interests, if one were to conclude that the animals interests trumped the human interest this would not it seems provide evidence for some diminished concern for human beings, never mind antipathy towards human beings in general. Sometimes a variation of the argument is offered that claims that concern with “animal rights” or animal interests necessarily takes away from one’s concern for human rights. I’ve never found that persuasively argued either.
We have much weaker and sillier arguments flying around the public discourse space prompted by the Michael Vick case. Here’s one of Tenessee’s representatives weighing in:
But does anyone besides me see the hypocrisy of some on the left who go nuts about Michael Vick and the whole dog fighting thing and yet are the same people who don’t care about the loss of human life caused by illegal aliens or are the same people who fight for the right to kill unborn babies?
I hear the battle cry of: “It is my body, it is my property, I can do with it what I want” from the pro aborts, but the opposite cry from the same person against a person whose property is a dog. Do they respect the life of a dog more then they respect the life of a human?
The sport’s savants weigh in as well, for example, here.
The larger point is that, as much as we’re tempted to react to the federal indictment of Vick as though it contained the most heinous accusations against a football player since O.J. Simpson’s, there’s a whole lot of hypocrisy here.
For one thing, animals are put to death on a continuous basis, as I was just telling one of my fellow pet-lovers at a neighborhood barbecue while wiping away the hamburger grease that had dripped onto my suede Pumas.
It also must be noted – and I am not defending the sick behavior of anyone whom a jury decides has committed an offense such as electrocuting a pit bull – that there are NFL players who’ve been charged with having committed deplorable crimes against actual human beings. Some of them even have been convicted, yet most of us manage to let it go when they do good things for the home team or emerge as value picks in the fantasy draft.
It’s worth considering what an argument that purports to demonstrate hypocrisy must accomplish. In the first example above the argument would have to show that “some on the left” (s.o.t.l.) are applying the same moral principle in a discriminatory way. For example, if s.o.t.l believed that what Michael Vick apparently did to dogs is wrong because killing mammals is wrong then perhaps granting that a fetus or the victims of the murderous illegal aliens are mammals, if they condone those latter deaths they are hypocrites. But there are obvious and well articulated differences between the cases being considered that s.o.t.l. can appeal to.
The second case is weirder. He seems to be suggesting that we ought to be less upset about Michael Vick because in the past people who have committed other crimes have been forgiven by the fans. Whether the moral fiber of the football fan is the appropriate test is a difficult question. But, nevertheless, even granting the premises of this argument it isn’t clear that “hypocrisy” has anything to do with it.
The accusation of hypocrisy in moral argument is often a cheap rhetorical ploy, functioning somewhere in the neighborhood of the ad hominem fallacy. By attacking the consistency of the moral critic you try to undermine the particular position they are advancing. At the same time, these sorts of arguments based on similarities between cases are theoretically central to moral argument. The burden of the argument lies with the person who claims that cases are the same or similar in the relevant morally significant ways. This would be why Peter Singer’s argument from the first chapter of Animal Liberation could be used to demonstrate hypocrisy (speciesism), while the first quote above fails to do so.
Of course, there is one point that I’ll agree with: it isn’t clear why there is a moral difference between killing an animal for entertainment and killing an animal for gustatory pleasure.