Monday, October 17, 2011

Justice does not require the recognition of animal rights

“If I were dropped out of a plane into the ocean and told the nearest land was a thousand miles away, I'd still swim. And I'd despise the one who gave up.” So said psychologist Abraham Maslow, creator of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, as he illustrated the extent of humanity’s passion for life. Because I would be swimming right next to Maslow, I negate the resolution.
I would like to begin with two definitions. “Require” means to need in the sense of a pre-existing condition, such as in that a mass-produced T-shirt requires a factory in which it can be made.
Justice, regardless of any other specifics, is a construct. Its contents are determined by the collective agreement of all those capable of taking part in such a discussion, and therefore on Earth is currently a construct derived directly from humans.
Until such a time when justice can exist independently of humanity, then, I value the existence and welfare of humankind.
In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced a hierarchy of human needs, more commonly known as Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs. The pyramid begins with physiological needs at the base such as air, food, water, and sleep, the next level emphasizing safety and security, before moving up to love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Maslow’s pyramid is commonly accepted in the realm of psychology, and I am therefore using it as my value criterion with which to measure progress toward the value of human welfare and, since it measures levels of needs, human existence as well.
My thesis, then, is that justice does not require the recognition of animal rights because animal rights have no bearing on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs for existence and welfare.
Contention One: Animal rights must be ignored in order for justice to begin to exist.
All organisms instinctively favor the existence and survival members of their own species above that of others. Nature itself is shaped by this unshakeable bias, and few motivations are more powerful. It is what drives us to find food and water at any cost. It is what drives us to mate. It is what drives us to fight back.
In short, it is what drives us to fulfill the needs of the first level on Maslow’s Pyramid: breathing, food, water, sex, and sleep. While humans do have the agency to fast or abstain on an average day, we as a species are utterly at their mercy in the long run. In times of famine, we will do whatever is necessary for the survival of ourselves and those in our immediate families--both biological family members and artificial ones, such as close friends. At whatever cost, we will eat.
In such a basic, desperate situation, one does not have any concern for what is right or what is fair. There is only what will get us food, and what will not.
Only after we have fulfilled our Level 1 physiological needs can we bother with higher-level concepts such as justice. Only after we know we’ll have food for the foreseeable future can we care about the lives and pain of the animals we hunt. There are no vegetarians in a starving world.
If animal rights were taken into consideration at the beginning of the trek up Maslow’s pyramid, no one would have ever risen above the first level, and justice would not exist. Therefore, justice does not require the recognition of animal rights, because animal rights can only be recognized after justice has already been established.
Contention Two: The recognition of animal rights may be desirable, but it isn’t necessary.
Many people value the rights of animals. However, when worst comes to worst, those people will still ignore those rights in order to fulfill their Level One needs. While most of today’s world has climbed to the level of the pyramid in which justice may exist, if such a time comes in which we need to begin disregarding the rights of animals once more, we will.
For these reasons, I negate the resolution.


  1. I am not sure how I feel about these debate competitions. While, on one hand, the study and practice of building and analyzing logical arguments seems to be a very worthwhile undertaking, I cannot help but worry that making people construct argument for both presented points of view encourages a Sophist's dismissal of truth independent of rhetoric. Furthermore, if I understand the format of the competition correctly, it sounds as though they are pitting arguments for one side off against arguments for the other. If this is the case, there seems to be the inherent assumption that what conclusion you are supporting bears no relation to the ease in which one can construct an argument, which is disturbing. Finally, and this is a much more minor point, the style seems to emphasize a dichotomous nature of solution or thought that is unfortunately prevalent in Western thought. Suppose I believe justice is obtained by granting primates rights due to their close resemblance to humanity, but we may treat pigs in any way we please, on which of the two sides would that place me?

  2. Here's the format:
    1. 6 minute Affirmative Constructive (prepared ahead of time)
    2. 3 minute cross-examination
    3. 7 minute Negative Constructive/Negative Rebuttal (some time reading own case and some time arguing against Aff)
    4. 3 minute cross-examination
    5. 4 minute Aff rebuttal
    6. 6 minute Neg rebuttal
    7. 3 minute Aff rebuttal

    Focus is less on the arguments themselves and more on what's called the "value clash," where we state why our value/value criterion is more relevant than the other's.

    As for your last question...I don't know. That's one of the things you could have brought up if you were debating the topic, and I'd have to spin my answer depending on which side I was on. What I've found through prepping both sides of this topic is that having to think so deeply about it has helped me figure out what I really believe about the topic--never in either case did I say something I did not believe in, which was a goal I had fun trying to fulfill.

    So I might not know which side you're on, but I know what you're doing is un-just.

  3. Your last sentence confuses me. In what way is what I am doing unjust (and just what is it that I am doing?)?

    Anyway, the fact that you, "spin [your] answer depending on which side" you were on is sort of what I consider most objectionable about this exercise.

  4. That's about your "suppose I..."

    I think the real ideal is to get people to look at both sides of an issue and to learn that people can and often do spin things. "Know thy enemy," or something.

  5. You don't seem to have a Criterion! That's an essential part of the argument as my coach teaches it. It's kind of a lever for which to enforce and apply pressure to your value. Common ones that i see used are utilitarianism, societal good, and cost vs benefit analysis for example.

  6. Um, I do have a criterion. Check the paragraph about Maslow: "...and I am therefore using it as my value criterion with which to measure progress toward the value of human welfare and, since it measures levels of needs, human existence as well."

  7. That's why i said "seem", the paragraph about maslow was the only one that i didn't read.


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