Voluntaryist philosophy naturally revolves around human beings and their interaction because, by-and-large, it is human beings who are coming up with the concepts of property rights and applying those concepts in social and market norms.
Despite this being the normal relationship dynamic, some people wish to extend the Voluntaryist ethic and, of specific concern, the non-aggression principle, to species outside of homo sapiens.
This article demonstrates why Voluntaryist values cannot be extended to animals and, in tandem, offers a methodology of what it takes to foster a consistent application of Voluntaryist norms.
First, Voluntaryist norms applying to humans does not need to have argumentation to support it outside of axiom. One could assume the set of actors (human beings) and simply apply the principles as a positivism as human beings are the ones who are acting on the principles and are the class of organisms looking to communicate and apply these principles among themselves.
However, we can also produce a meaningful logical framework that not only shows why human beings should be the only species considered (given known lifeforms), but the problematic consequences of attempting to apply the N.A.P. to other organisms that do not have the intellectual capacity of human beings.
The primary reason why human beings are the subject class for Voluntaryist ethics is that human beings are generally viewed as having the capacity to understand and reciprocate property rights. This is a crucial feature because any system of ethics where the subject class of actors cannot meaningfully hold the tenets will soon fall into violent chaos.
Take an extreme case to see what this means. For example, if I were to come up with an ethical rule/principle that stated, “It is unethical for human beings to breathe air,” this would be rather problematic. If held consistently, all human beings would immediately begin to suffocate and, within minutes, die off. As can be seen, coming up with an ethical rule that causes all or most all members within a group to immediately perish would be problematic as those members cannot reasonably be expected to uphold the rule or they will die.
Likewise, creating and applying ethical rules that would inherently be broken to an extreme degree is also poor philosophy as people will then either suffer or be subject to punishment for breaking rules they inherently are going to break.
If people cannot be expected to uphold certain ethical rules, then they cannot be held liable for their actions, no more than a fish could be found at fault for swimming or a baby be blamed for burping.
When it comes to the non-aggression principle, Voluntaryists have the expectation that people at large are at least capable of respecting the physical bodies and the physical properties of others. This expectation and ability to reciprocate is what underpins the psychological drive of “justice” and “responsibility” for human action.
Of course, within the whole of human diversity, there are those who are unable to understand and reciprocate norms due to developmental stage, like young children, and those who cannot understand due to biological dysfunction such as those suffering Alzheimer’s or those with Down Syndrome.
To accommodate for this diversity, the principle for species-wide reciprocity should be executed for application when the average member of a species is capable of understanding and reciprocating respect of other people’s bodies and properties.
Human beings have the brain size and raw intelligence for this kind of understanding that most all animals simply do not have.
To further see why the “average member” metric is important, consider what the world would look like if most people could NOT understand and reciprocate some form of property rights.
In that world, people would be taking things from others, destroying other people’s property, and causing physical harm at large to others through rape, battery, and murder.
Such a world would be littered with violence beyond imagination, and even philosophy would be ignored to focus on fighting for survival against a brutal horde of human predators.
In such a world, there would be so many violations, that people would essentially be focused on protecting themselves and exacting retribution for violations of their body and property.
Thankfully, we live in a world where most people can maintain some semblance of respect of body and property. Largely, people only make exceptions to this expectation when it comes to rationalizations of proxy violence through the state.
Animals, on the other hand, do not have the ability to internalize and act on property rights to any meaningful degree. Carnivores would, categorically, be engaged in the business of committing violations against other living creatures. Herbivores would, by nature, violate physical property norms and even some standards of recklessness and negligence in accidentally killing other creatures they step on.
Because of this, we can see absurdities emerge in applying the non-aggression principle to animals.
First, human beings would be justified in stopping all carnivores from eating other animals. They would even be able to use deadly self-defense on behalf of herbivores. This would lead to a kind of eugenics for carnivorous animals until they go extinct, disrupting the ecosystem dramatically.
Secondly, applying the N.A.P. to animals as against humans would also produce a justification for human beings to use force, even deadly force, against other humans for violating the bodies or possibly even noted “properties” of animals.
A human being killing an animal for food or clothing would be viewed as a murderer meriting punishment.
Any attempt to craft special categories for animals as compared to humans would inherently create special pleading.
For example, if one rationalizes carnivores eating other animals, then one could not really suggest that they are upholding the N.A.P. for animals as they are permitting violations to happen for one group, but not another.
Trying to use the term “need” puts the cart before the horse biologically as well, as all living things are evolutionary products of their environment and a “need” to eat a living organisms is itself a product of genetic gravitation from survival selection of food source.
In simpler terms, the very reason why there are carnivorous organisms is because some creatures long ago were able to eat other organisms and then become dependent on that kind of nutrition with adaptation over time.
To rationalize carnivorous animal activity is to put a stamp of approval on continuing the genetic dependence of killing other animals for food.
If this same property were to be reciprocated to humans, human beings could not have arisen as they are a product of eating meat, which was what allowed humans to grow such a large brain size in the first place.
Holding different standards for carnivorous creatures here commits a special pleading and, thus, should be rejected outright for being inconsistent with the supposed first intent of trying to end the killing of animals through the application of the N.A.P.
One can readily see that the expectation of reciprocity is not consistently held for animals.
To see this in concrete terms, it can be understood that human beings can be expected to not step on or drive over other humans. To do so typically imports a kind of negligent or reckless behavior analysis.
However, human beings regularly kill and maim other creatures, from hitting them with planes, trains, and automobiles, to killing and displacing them in the construction of homes and roads.
Outside the sophistry of state violence, people at large would not rationalize killing thousands of humans by steam-rolling them over to pave a road or build an apartment complex. (And, if they did at first, they would likely backtrack upon performing a comparative test where the killing involved themselves and their loved ones instead of strangers.)
Because of this, it is clear that the very fundamental nature of human existence comes from the ingestion and killing of other animals in a manner that cannot be meaningfully abated or stopped without causing mass starvation and/or death to humans for their otherwise mundane activity.
If each person was held accountable for any animal he or she killed, directly or indirectly through use of modern facilities, they would be worthy of the death penalty or a life sentence for the death they have brought to other living things.
As was noted before, any ethical rule which quickly leads to justification for mass violence and death or an extinction or near-extinction level of a species is a principle which ought to be rejected lest there are no more actors left to even engage with the philosophy.
Anyone trying to suggest that animals could be treated with respect on a different scale is then also devolving away from the original premise of applying the N.A.P. animals. Again, by holding two different standards between animals and humans, the proponent is now trying to create an apartheid system of ethics where human beings are treated more harshly for the same actions taken by other animals in the wild. Why should force be permitted to stop a human from eating deer, but not a lion? This cannot be answered without abandoning a consistent application of the non-aggression principle through creating a two-tiered ethics system.
Ultimately, what this means is that human beings cannot, and should not, use force against other humans for their actions against animals at large. Rather, animals should be treated under the property rights ethic of privatization until it can be shown that the average member of a particular species is capable of understanding and reciprocating property rights.
Should there be an exceptionally intelligent animal, that particular creature could be considered a moral agent exception to the rule. However, this is something that is more likely relegated to science fiction than a meaningful, present-day concern.
If people wish for the treatment of animals to change, that must come through voluntary social norms in changing minds – not through physical violence – whether done through a private actor or someone acting under the auspices of “the state.”
Any other standard will inherently lead to human beings enacting violence against other human beings for participating in activities that are already rampant in nature and are not going to be meaningfully stopped by the people who supposedly care about animal wellbeing.
Remember that the aim of Voluntaryism is to maximize consent and minimize the initiation of violence as among humans, so any principle that would validate human-on-human violence where a human is not violating the property or body of another human will only amplify the discord as among humans.
Meat and Nicotinamide: A Causal Role in Human Evolution, History, and Demographics
Sorry Vegans: Here’s How Meat-Eating Made Us Human
Evolutionary Adaptations to Dietary Changes
If you’d like to learn more about Voluntaryist philosophy, pick up the book: