Of Course Animals Have Emotions

by Wesley J. Smith

I am always surprised when stories breathlessly report that scientists have discovered new levels of animal emotions. Here’s a current example.

Good grief, who anymore asserts that they don’t experience emotions?

Anyone who has owned a dog knows they have emotions and distinct personalities. Anyone watching a mother animal nurture her offspring knows they have emotions.  

I once rode a horse that I just knew was pouting. When I asked the wrangler why, she told me that he was usually the lead horse on the ranch, but because I was renting him for a ride, he was behind and didn’t like it. 

Headline! Animals feel emotions! Animals feel pain! Animals have intelligence!

And that is why we have animal welfare laws. We create rules for using and caring for animals precisely because we understand that they are not automatons–as some thought hundreds of years ago. We have duties–animals don’t–and treating animals humanely arises from our exceptionalism.

But these biological facts about animals are often misused to try and push us beyond our welfare duties and into according animals human-type rights.  That is a bridge too far.

No animal has rights. None can ever be held morally accountable for their behavior or assumed to have responsibilities and duties toward us or other animals. And since they cannot–by their natures–engage in the symbiosis between rights and duties, they cannot be rights-bearers.

Humans, on the other hand, are inherently so capable. Sure there are individuals who cannot access that fundamental aspect of our natures due to immaturity, illness, injury, or some other anomalous incapacity.

But that doesn’t mean all humans do not (or should not) have rights because we are–as a species–capable of exercising both sides of the rights/duties mutuality.

In actuality, to assert that animals have rights–a concept they cannot comprehend–is really another way of saying we have duties toward them that are so self-sacrificial that we may not own them or use them for our own purposes regardless of benefit, no matter how humanely we treat them. 

Ironically, animal rightists’ insistence that we engage in such radical and harmful (to us) self-sacrifice demonstrates the very human exceptionalism that they insistently deny.

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