As AE shows, since norms must be objectively derived from the praxeological grundnorm of peaceful conflict resolution, arbitrary particularistic moral distinctions are unattainable positions. The intuition of slavery norms being inconsistent with the goal of peaceful conflict resolution is indeed grounded in the nature of discourse.

Normative distinctions based on skin-color, height or sexual preference are trivially arbitrary, as people of any skin-color, height or sexual preference can deny them in argument with no implied contradiction. Such a distinction has nothing to do with their ability to respect the rights of others, and implied in that, to resolve conflicts in discourse. They are fully capable moral agents.

However, what about the removal of moral distinctions, that is, broadening the category of moral agents to include animals, for instance? It can be shown that this is not the removal of a moral categorical distinction, but  in fact the introduction of one. It is because animals are cognitively “blind” to the notion of rights and the rights of others; they cannot then be logically held accountable for committing rights violations any more than a blind man can logically be punished for bumping into someone, after taking all possible precautions.  Therefore, to claim that the rights of animals should be respected by man is not to claim that animals are equal to man, but rather that animals are superior to man. Man will be punished for spitting in the face of a lama, but the lama will not be punished for spitting at his*. (*Again, to argue the lama should be punished is a clear reductio ad-absurdum)


Abortion poses a different yet very much related question.

As far as I can see, every approach which recognizes a two-celled fetus to be a rights entitled moral agent must also completely appose abortions. The fetus was put in its current hazardous situation inside the mother’s womb by the direct actions of its parents, and so they have a moral responsibility not to kill him. Such approaches, however, are more reminiscent of the old unfounded “natural rights” approach to libertarian ethics, and are in my view inconsistent with the presuppositions of argumentation.

A fetus has been claimed to be comparable to a sleeping man. The fetus, like a sleeping man will in the future become an actor, “waking up”. By this analogy of course a sleeping man does not lose ownership of his body during sleep. This is of nothing special; as a person similarly does not lose ownership of his house while he’s away. Ownership claims must be grounded in past events, which can be known, not in future events. The future is inherently uncertain. A valid AE ownership claim must of course also be traceable to a moral agent. So, given that a fetus will most likely become a moral agent, can he be considered a sleeping man?

Since a fetus lacks the cognitive ability to respect rights, he is most certainly not currently a moral agent. However, unlike ownership over the body of a sleeping man, the body-ownership of a fetus cannot be traced to a moral agent other than his mother (and maybe father, to a lesser extent). The moral agent the fetus will presumably become, and has yet to come to existence is a late-comer with regards to the mother. Such a hypothetical moral agent never showed himself to be capable of argumentation, nor has appropriated anything. No valid rule of ownership can assign ownership to a moral agent who has yet to come into existence.

The implications of relying on nothing but cognitive ability to define moral categories, while in and of itself somewhat intuitive, can lead to some non-intuitive conclusions. The fact animals cannot logically be regarded as moral agents legalizes not only killing and eating them, but also gruesomely torturing them for no apparent reason. While such an act may be socially appalling, AE shows that it does not justify the use of violence against the torturer. Similarly the fact that a fetus is not a moral agent not only allows abortions during the entire term of pregnancy but also during the time the baby is still extremely young. This of course also includes genital mutilation also known as circumcision. While such acts are deemed discussing, they only justify the use of the powerful social sanctions a free-society will surely have in order to prevent their occurrence.

I will also note that a child does not go from having no rights to being a full moral agent in an instant. As a baby grows older and develops some cognitive ability to respect the rights of others, he also gradually gains some rights for himself. Once the child has shown he is able to fully respect the rights of others and maturely resolve disputes, he must be considered full moral agent, and has all the rights of a grownup himself.