In his fawning, one-sided tribute to animal-rights activist Peter Singer {op-ed, June 9}, Colman McCarthy maintained that "the ethical case for butchery and torture of animals can't be made because none exists."

He's wrong.

For starters, there is the Kantian argument that we have a moral obligation to behave "ethically" only to those beings also possessed of the capacity of moral judgment. Under this ethical scheme, a being's "rights" are derived from its ability to perceive the moral value of those rights and to reciprocate them. Since animals are incapable of this, they have no moral claim to "rights."

Or if McCarthy is uncomfortable with Immanuel Kant's conception of morals and ethics, he could try Darwin's. McCarthy agreed with Singer's equation of speciesism, the belief in the primacy of one's own species, with racism and sexism. But according to Darwin, the primary motivation of all life is the perpetuation of one's species. Whether one species is "better" than another in abstract moral terms is irrelevant. The natural predilection toward speciesism is not evil, but the supreme law of nature.

Or if McCarthy doesn't trust Darwin either, he could consider simple logic. One of the principal tenets of the animal-rights movement is that there is no real qualitative difference between people and animals. This belief in animal rights depends largely upon the fundamental similarity of people and animals. But if this really were the case, people should have no obligation, or even inclination, to act differently from the way other animals act. No one would dream of calling a cat eating a mouse "immoral." Yet, according to McCarthy, the human who uses animals for food or research is immoral.

McCarthy and Singer can't have it both ways. Humans can't be both superior to animals and beholden to a "higher" standard of conduct than animals and be essentially the same as animals and therefore deserving of only the same rights as animals. This logical flaw in the core of the arguments of the anti-speciesists confirms the absurdity of their position. Of course there are real differences among species, and of course they matter.

It is abundantly evident that there are many ways to make a case against animal rights. It was journalistically and intellectually irresponsible for McCarthy to categorically deny that his and Singer's arguments could be refuted. -- Jeff Bucholtz