Tuesday, August 18th, 2009


PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) people typically oppose the idea of human exceptionalism: that humans are qualitatively different from, and qualitatively superior to animals.  Such thinking explains their ad campaigns like “Holocaust on a Plate,” in which they compare eating chicken to the extermination of Jews by Hitler.  While PETA people may deny human exceptionalism with their lips—and often with their deeds—I would venture to say that most of them do not truly believe humans and animals are morally equivalent.

I came up with a question you can ask a PETA person that will either help them see that they don’t really believe humans and animals are moral equals, or help you expose their moral confusion for what it is.  Ask him/her, “Do you believe it is ok to sell a dog?”  If they say no, then they really do believe in the moral equivalence of humans and animals.  My guess, however, is that most will say yes.  If they do, proceed to ask them, “Do you believe it is ok to sell people?”  If they say no, then they haven’t completely abandoned the idea of human exclusivism.  In some sense they understand that humans are more valuable than animals.  Of course, they might respond with a second yes, in which case their moral sense is in worse shape than we thought!

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Many who claim that homosexuality is morally benign claim that same-sex attraction is “in their genes.”  Does this appeal to biological determinism help their case?  No.  No moral truth follows from biological truth.  Even if it were true that same-sex attraction was biologically determined (something for which there is no solid evidence), it would no more follow that homosexuality is, therefore, morally benign, than it would follow that pedophilia is morally benign if a genetic link to pedophilia was discovered.

Furthermore, if biologically predisposed/determined behaviors are excused from moral condemnation, then on what basis could bigotry against homosexuals be condemned if the desire to discriminate against homosexuals is caused by one’s genes?  If hatred of homosexuality is biologically determined, and thus it is morally benign.  After all, such a person would be born that way!  Surely no one would buy this argument, and yet it is logically equivalent to the argument that homosexuality is morally benign because it is biologically determined.  If we have reason to reject one form of the argument, we have reason to reject the other.  The fact of the matter is that biology tells us nothing about morality.