“Babies are obviously nothing like pigs, because fast forward a year or two and one is talking to you whereas the other never will. And they are talking to you because of something that happened in that year or two, and it isn’t something that happens in pigs, ever. This is not a small difference, it is a radical difference.”
– Sarah Fitz-Claridge
“A baby seems to me to be no more capable of reason than a pig or a cow. These mammals seem to have wills. They also non-verbally communicate their desires and often require human assistance in order to meet their basic needs. If we should take babies seriously, does it follow that we should take pigs seriously too?”
Next you’ll be advocating eating babies. 🙂
Babies and pigs are nothing like alike. Even on the day of birth, a baby seems nothing like a pig to me. When my first baby was first born she looked directly into my eyes and smiled. There was humanity and reason in her eyes.
Babies are obviously nothing like pigs, because fast forward a year or two and one is talking to you whereas the other never will. And they are talking to you because of something that happened in that year or two, and it isn’t something that happens in pigs, ever. This is not a small difference, it is a radical difference.
What is also interesting is that there are things that the pigs can do that babies can’t. A pig can do everything it can do in its life within months of its birth, including walking and feeding. Humans have to learn these skills over a much longer period than pigs, even though in the distant past, our ancestors had their full repertoire built in just like pigs have it built in. Why is that? It is because in humans, all sorts of functions that in other animals are controlled by genes are instead controlled by ideas. So they have to be learnt. And everyone learns them in a slightly different way. Everybody learns slightly different speaking. Nobody learns the exact same meaning of words, and nobody speaks language in exactly the same way.
If what you have in mind is the idea that adults or older children have reason but babies do not, that idea makes no sense. How does reason get switched on, and when? The fact that a baby learns to talk means that the baby must have been making inexplicit conjectures about what things mean and what we call different things in order to learn language, and they are learning vastly more than just the words they can speak. Pigs do none of this. All their knowledge is built into their genes.
Babies and pigs both have genetic theories built in, but unlike newborn babies, pigs’ built-in theories are not replaced through creative rational processes. Babies interpret reality in part according to their built-in genetic theories—theories enable babies to learn language, to form other theories, and so on. There are probably also substantive theories built in, about things like three-dimensional space, and so on, because of babies’ control over their limbs, etc. Ultimately, babies end up creating explanatory theories but pigs never do.
As Jacob Bronowski said in The Ascent of Man (pp. 19-20 in the book version):
“Among the multitude of animals which scamper, fly, burrow and swim around us, man is the only one who is not locked into his environment. His imagination, his reason, his emotional subtlety and toughness, make it possible for him not to accept the environment but to change it. And that series of inventions, by which man from age to age has remade his environment, is a different kind of evolution—not biological, but cultural evolution. I call that brilliant sequence of cultural peaks The Ascent of Man. I use the word ascent with a precise meaning. Man is distinguished from other animals by his imaginative gifts. He makes plans, inventions, new discoveries…”
For a related argument in a discussion about the morality of eating meat, see this comment and others in the thread.
- How do you tell pre-verbal children about dangers given that they do not understand explanations?
- Do children taken seriously ever ask permission?
- How do you take babies seriously?
Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 2022, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘If we should take babies seriously, should we not take pigs seriously too?’, https://takingchildrenseriously.com/if-we-should-take-babies-seriously-should-we-not-take-pigs-seriously-too/