Phil's Rambling Rants
The pursuit of Happiness|
I think that you're going to find yourself tripping over your second point about moral principles. A brief example follows:
So, there's an unscrupulous breeder of big cats who raises them in horrible conditions, then releases them on his ranch for staged "big-game hunts" where the animals are killed with no chance of survival and no real "sport" to it.
You've suffered no material harm. Does your personal morality justify limiting the rights of the breeder and "hunter"? (I put hunter in quotes since there's no real hunting going on here.)
You're right that there's a sticky area here. I'll take a stab at defending what I meant, though I'll concede (again) that I don't have all the answers.
I could argue that this isn't a good example, because what's really at issue are the tiger's rights, but that would be missing the point. So I will stipulate for the sake of this discussion that whatever inherent rights animals have are well below a human's right to the pursuit of happiness.
I used the word personal with specific intent. In your example, the fact that my own sensibilities are offended does not trump the "hunter"'s pursuit of happiness. (The breeder's interests are economic, and his right to make money in whatever way he thinks of is a much weaker right than the "hunter"'s right to pursue happiness. But that's a whole nother can o' worms.) What I meant to imply by using personal was that if a large enough number of people's sensitivites are offended, at some point the activity offends society as a whole, which may justify a higher level of scrutiny.
That's what I meant when I wrote the previous comment, but it makes me uncomfortable. A large number of people's sensitivities are offended by a number of activities that I think should be permitted.
In my own personal worldview, it's self-evident that enjoying the suffering and death of other creatures is tainted, and pursuing such happiness isn't part of the unalienable right to pursue happiness. However, while I think that's a position a lot of people would agree with, I don't think it rises to the level of an ethical axiom. My believing it doesn't make it right. I think a sound argument, as objective as any argument on ethical principles can be, can be made, but I can't state it logically yet.
I also used the word moral in my previous comment with specific intent, in contrast with my use of ethical in this one. However, the distinction is based on my own personal definitions of those words. I will write more on the difference between morals and ethics, my own definitions of those words, and the problem of how my definitions are different from other people's and how I communicate what I mean sometime Real Soon Now.