Claim: Animals are just operating on instinct; you can't prove they have feelings


Animals operate more on instinct than humans do. Any display of emotion is just a display of instinct, they aren't really suffering.

Problems With This Argument

1. It's demonstrably false

One can objectively test that animals have emotions. For instance, one can agitate the animal and see if the agitated state persists. If the animal proceeds to hold on to an emotional state history, that is indicative of the animal having a "mood" that it is in. Animals down to even bees pass this test. Other tests can also be done such as if animals form friendships and receive emotional comfort from them.

Plenty of "food" animals pass these and many more tests and therefore are clearly not just running on instinct.

2. This is an inconsistently applied criterion

We also frown upon killing dogs, the disabled, or the elderly, even if they might be "running on instinct" perhaps even more so than the animals that we accept as edible. The only fallback is the same special pleading in other arguments.

3. Any counter to pt. 1 can be used to justify murder

The only remaining place to run is solipsism - that no argument or evidence that shows anything that we would call "emotion" or "mood" can be used to prove anything. Any evidence of "emotion" is just proof that the animal has the instincts of emotion. To this there are two responses:

  • This can be applied to any human. Just because humans can talk, that is just an evolutionary adaptation, but humans telling you to stop killing them can equally be claimed to be "running off of instinct". If there's an impossible burden of proof for animals, why not have the same impossible burden of proof for humans?
  • If you do indeed believe this argument, consider this scenario: you're looking for a babysitter and find out that one applicant beats a dog chained in their basement for pleasure and uses this argument to justify it. Are you more or less likely to hire them upon learning this piece of information?

4. This is an unfalsifiable position

You can just keep throwing anything and everything at someone that believes this and they will continue to shrug and say "Well that's just instinct". "Right, but we put them in an MRI and it looks like the same parts of their brains are lighting up as ours" "Oh, that's just an accident of evolution."

In such scenarios, it's incumbent upon you to demonstrate that your claim is correct since it's indistinguishable from something that you pulled out of your hindquarters to just throw as much spaghetti at the wall until something sticks.

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