Antispeciesism is defined by Larousse as a “vision of the world which rejects the notion of hierarchy between animal species and, particularly, the superiority of human beings over animals and granting all individuals, independently of the species to which they belong, the same moral status.” The first part of this analysis presents the concept as presented by one of its fervent defenders. The second part rebuts it.
Both parts were written by Fr. Arnaud Sélégny of the Society of Saint Pius X.
What Is Life?
A brief overview of this notion is necessary to understand the ineptitude of the concept being critiqued and its inadequacy with regards to reality.
It must first be emphasized that the word “life” is an abstract term and not a concrete term. It is used to designate living, animated beings. But in itself, it designates nothing other than a class of beings. “Life” does not exist, there are only living beings.
This point is important, because the word happens to be analogical; in other words, it does not have the same meaning when it is applied to the different classes of living beings. To speak of human life, animal life, or vegetable life does not mean absolutely the same thing. Certainly, there is a resemblance, but not identity.
Like talking about the life of God, the life of an angel or human life, differentiates the use of the word in the same way. If the same word is used, there are considerable differences, especially if we compare the life of the Creator to that of his creatures—angel or man.
Thus, in our created material world, it is necessary to make a distinction between living beings of three categories: plants, animals, and men. To say that they live amounts to affirming that they possess a soul, because, by definition – and by demonstration, but that is another topic – the living is distinguished from the inanimate by that part of itself which allows it to be declared as such: a principle of life, a soul.
The simplest observation makes it possible to distinguish the vegetable from the animal and from the man. This difference lies in the soul that each possesses and in the type of life that it provokes and realizes in the body that corresponds to it.
The Vegetable Soul
Some may be surprised to consider this claim of a vegetative soul, but nevertheless, it is the truth. But one should have a clear understanding that the characteristic of the human soul should not be attributed to the vegetative soul: this soul disappears completely upon the death of the plant.
The vegetative soul is also characterized by the functions it assumes: the nutrition of the plant, its growth, and finally, its reproduction. This vegetative life is the basis of all life, and all living things have these functions – at least reproduction, which is even the case with a virus, which, strictly speaking, does not feed or grow.
The Animal Soul
The soul of animals adds to the vegetative functions – which it exercises in a higher way than the vegetative soul – other functions which characterize the animal: the sensitivity linked to the five senses (for the animals which possess them all); animal passions such as attraction, desire, fear or anger, instinct, a kind of inner plane that allows the animal, within impassable limits, to adapt to changes in its environment, e.g., to seek food or a partner for reproduction; and finally locomotion, for animals that are endowed with it.
It is essential to understand that the life that characterizes the animal is that life qualified as sensitive, because it is based on the activity of the senses. Vegetative life is not specific to the animal, but it possesses it in its own way, as it is responsible for the making of bones and blood, the contraction of the muscles, and the ability to emit sounds, etc. This simple observation makes it possible to grasp the profound distortion produced by antispeciesism, which assimilates all degrees of life into a joyous jumble.
The Human Soul
Finally, the highest degree, the human soul, adds to the vegetative and sensory functions its own activity: that of its spiritual faculties – in the sense of spirit, not of supernatural life – because the human soul is a spirit, made in the image of God who is Spirit. This human spirit, unlike the angel, who is pure spirit, is also a soul which gives life to a body.
The first characteristic of the human soul is its immortality. It persists after the death of the body to which has been united, because, as a spirit, it possesses in itself the resources of a separate life, though somewhat amputated by the disappearance of the body.
The proper life of the human soul is that of its intelligence and its will, which are also spiritual, and which do not depend on the body to subsist or act. Thus human life consists properly in the knowledge of the truth, both speculative (pure knowledge) and practical (intended for action), as well as in the exercise of virtue.
No animal, and a fortiori, no plant, can attain the least degree of this properly human life. Animals remain beasts that the human imagination often colors with human feelings. This can be a way of illustrating a lesson through a fable, but it is also a complete distortion of what the animal is, if one has the misfortune to seriously believe it.
It is quite often said that man was willed by God for Himself, and the universe for man. But that is not the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas, who affirms that what is first willed by God is the good of the universe, that cosmic harmony which is the most perfect created image of greatness and goodness of God. And, within this universe, man holds a special place. He is placed above all other material creatures.
In a very beautiful article of the Summa Theologica (I, q.47, a.2) included in the treatise on creation, St. Thomas explains his thought. Asking himself if God has caused inequality in things, he replies: “it must be said that as the wisdom of God is the cause of the distinction of things, so the same wisdom is the cause of their inequality.”
“Now, formal distinction [between species] always requires inequality.… In natural things, species seem to be arranged in degrees; as the mixed things are more perfect than the elements, and plants than minerals, and animals than plants, and men than other animals; and in each of these one species is more perfect than others.”
“Therefore, as the divine wisdom is the cause of the distinction of things for the sake of the perfection of the universe, so is it the cause of inequality. For the universe would not be perfect if only one grade of goodness were found in things.”
Now, the goodness of a creature depends on the way in which God loves it and gives it a greater likeness to His own perfection. It is also a beautiful doctrine of St. Thomas: the mineral is a reflection of God because it exists; the plant, because it lives; the animal, because it feels and can thus assimilate – partially – what surrounds it; man, because he is spirit, intelligence, and will. He is much more than a reflection: an image.
Man has therefore received much more than all other material created beings: it is because he is more loved by God. Not to mention that his nature is capable of receiving a supreme gift, which assimilates him to God in an incomparable way: grace, which makes him a child of God, and allows him to participate in the very life of God.
It is therefore through the inequality between these natural orders and their harmony that the cosmos proclaims the glory of God.
An Impossible Right
It is absolutely impossible to attribute rights to any entity other than man or the human person. This needs to be shown briefly.
The law presupposes a certain equality
In essence, a right is something owed to others, which is specified by the law, whether it is natural law or human law. A right is the object of the virtue of justice. And moreover, the law is a relationship of equality, because it arises from the need for order in a community. This equality is not physical, but moral, because it concerns a human operation, which must adapt to others for the common good.
All these properties already exclude any right outside the human person: it is precisely for this reason that the antispeciesists want to equalize the living, by affirming an – almost – total equality between all living species.
The human person is an individual, of a rational nature, which enables him to perceive his complete good, capable of perfection in a united society.
From this arises legal capacity, which is neither the autonomy of the will or the freedom it presupposes, nor the will to power or greatness, but an aptitude for the pursuit, in solidarity, of a common end.
It includes the sense of responsibility, that is, the possibility of self-disposition. Finally, it presupposes the ability to understand that the measure imposed by reason or by law, on social relations of all kinds, with a view to the realization of the common good, is indeed the law.
In short, legal capacity is rooted in reason, is located in the will, and draws its immediate justification from the possibility of law and above all from the common good.
The subject of law
Every man is a subject of law and receives legal capacity from the Creator.
The human soul is of the image of its Creator. Such, according to St. Thomas the theologian, is the raison d'être of its attributes.
In the eyes of the philosopher, all the prerogatives of man proceed from the rationality of his nature. Only man has a personal end to which he brings himself.
The foundation of the rights of the human person reside in his domain (dominium) over the universe and over its actions. By innate disposition he is capable of personally attaining the good of the universe.
What is this domain? It comprises three realities: the subject who is affected by the relation of superiority or sovereignty, the person or the thing over which this sovereignty is exercised, and the basis of this relation, which consists of a power which derives from his status as being reasonable and free.
Dominium is presented as a psychological and natural attribute of man: “Man differs from irrational creatures in that he enjoys dominion over his acts, est actuum suum dominus. Whence it follows that the only actions which are called properly human are those of which he is master, dominus (I-II Prologus).”
This dominium is transformed into moral and legal power only insofar as it relates to rational objects: “The goodness of the will depends on reason, in the same way as it depends on the object. (I-II, q.a9, a.3)” The object of the act considered therefore constitutes the foundation, the cause, and the measure of moral power, and this for all the moral virtues.
And the trees?
Must the question be asked? If we talk about the rights of animals, of plants or of nature, either it is no longer a question of law, but of a flight of fancy; or, in a true sense, it is a question of regulating the duties that man has towards the universe in which, from Genesis, God has placed him and entrusted to him.
But then it is a right vis-à-vis himself: to avoid destroying his environment, to be corrupted by cruelty towards animals, to want to enrich himself at the expense of his fellows or his descendants, for example.
Antispeciesism is not only intellectual nonsense, it is also a practical denial of the existence of God. To deny the degrees of beings and the order of the universe is to deny God. The fourth and fifth “ways” of St. Thomas to prove the existence of God are based respectively on these two evidences.
By denying them, or by refusing them more or less en bloc, the antispeciesist indirectly but surely denies the existence of the Creator, and, believing that he is raising plants and animals to the level of man, he only lowers man to their level.
Both parts of this article appeared in issue 147 of Cahiers Saint Raphaël.
Cahiers Saint Raphaël, a publication of the ACIM (Catholic Association of Nurses, Doctors and Health Professionals) for some forty years, is an original journal that answers the questions posed by the major contemporary problems of medical ethics. Medical and social topics are also covered.
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