Buddhist philosopher Ricard (Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World, 2015, etc.) examines the fraught relationship between humans and animals, proposing a new ethic to govern it.
“Can the notion of rights really be restricted to the human species when there exist at least 7.7 million species of animals?” So, extending arguments advanced by Peter Singer and other students of animal rights, asks Ricard. His book is a careful disquisition on that large question, in which he answers, emphatically, in the negative while encouraging his human audience to consider it with at least some small degree of humility—for we are not alone, and we alone are not the only creatures endowed with intelligence. Indeed, in the early part of his argument he examines what he calls “sorry excuses” for our treatment of animals, some of which center on our supposed superiority, others of which propose that animals somehow respond to and process pain and suffering differently than us. (Blame it on Descartes.) Neither nutrition nor tradition demands that we eat animals, Ricard urges, and those sorry excuses amount to a poor effort “to efface our scruples and to allow us to continue to exploit and mistreat animals with an untroubled conscience.” Though eminently accessible, Ricard’s thesis interacts with the latest, often highly technical philosophical theories, and he can find few that even begin to defend that exploitation and maltreatment. He closes his argument by noting that many countries around the world have begun to extend legal personhood of some kind to animals, particularly our great apes kin, with Austria being the most advanced of them: that nation prohibits killing animals “without a valid reason,” which of course opens up its own can of worms. With legal personhood thus established, moral personhood necessarily follows.
Fascinating, if a source of as many questions as answers, and essential fuel for any discussion of the rights of animals.