Why ‘Name the Trait’ is a Tool, Not an Argument

At least not in its informal sense..

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Preface

It does fall into the technical definition of an argument. Telling someone to brush their teeth, because doing so prevents cavities, is an argument, as stated on Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

An argument can be defined as a complex symbolic structure where some parts, known as the premises, offer support to another part, the conclusion

However, during vegan philosophical argument, this is often used to inquire in a person whether they truly value traits, how they apply moral value to animals, and to the less accustomed, how the assumptions they’ve developed over their lifetime has been wrong.

This concept is formalized on Philosophicalvegan.com here:

P1) If your view affirms a given human is trait-equalizable to a given nonhuman animal while retaining moral value, then your view can only deny the given

nonhuman animal has moral value on pain of P∧~P.

P2) Your view affirms a given human is trait-equalizable to a given nonhuman animal while retaining moral value.

C) Therefore, your view can only deny the given nonhuman animal has moral value on pain of P∧~P

Informally this may be summarized as:

“If a non-human animal possessed some quantitative amount of ‘human’ traits, and these are what underlie the moral value of a human being, then you can only say animals are of no moral value by contradiction.”

The more popular usage:

“What trait, seen in humans, when applied to animals makes them worthy of moral consideration?”

When deployed correctly, it enlightens people to how they understand animals. Dually, should it be misunderstood, it only serves to make people dig deeper into their argumentative hole, which is especially prevalent for the more emotionally-driven rationale. However, getting into the weeds is where we may start to see why these shortcomings occur.

Being human is of course a qualitative measurement. If a Chimpanzee managed one day to speak and do math, most people would probably accept that they’d be of moral worth. However, there are some that still would in fact kill that chimpanzee for food or advocate for it to be used for exploitation by what I’ll just describe as ‘economic partitioning’ — choosing after the fact to synthesize a justification for exploiting an animal because of economic gain.

Furthermore, all naming the trait of species simply does is approximate the line where people arbitrarily draw their perception of actions against animal cognition. That is to say, name the trait doesn’t work when one draws the species argument. It isn’t problematic because you only need to know it exists to understand that a human is differentiable from a chimpanzee. If there was no perceivable difference, the observer is unable to reliably form a distinction, and thus it becomes an ambiguous metaphysical question. There is not some objective ‘thing’ that represents humans as Plato inquired of a ‘chair’, but simply what we have come to culminate in our understanding of ‘human’, which may differ from peoples experiences. Name the trait, while a nice tool for measurement, doesn’t actually accomplish much other than conveying the concept of nuance in perceiving ‘things’ like people, a rock, or a banana, and when the ‘species’ quality comes up, it may just become set in stone as an unshakeable assumption for those looking for a way to not be contradictory.

Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.

-Alan Alda

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