Roger, all of this assumes that humans beings, in our intelligence and sense of morality are more important than other animals. That assumption is how we are able to treat animals so poorly. That assumption, in relation to humanity, allows us to treat other social groups or individuals as “lesser”. Throughout history, this has been the case - different groups being singled out as less intelligent or less moral, in order to justify some abuse or another (slavery, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, etc.).
To most of us here, that assumption of inflated importance is false. Plenty of reasons have been given in this thread as to why it is false. Saying “men are just animals” in that context is merely a denial of the above assumption, not a denial of the things that make humans different from other animals.
In other words, our current treatment of animals and the abuses we have inflicted on each other over history, even in the present, are consequences of a false assumption.
I must come at this from the other side, Roger. Instead of again showing, as Alan has already done several times, that the alleged superiority of man is a false assumption, let’s look at your assumptions about animals.
You say, “We are asserting that the things which distinguish men from beasts—intelligence and a sense of right and wrong—are not of importance.”
First of all Roger, if animals are ‘beasts’ then so are man (men/women) beasts as well. I don’t think that intelligence and a sense of right and wrong are the distinguishing features because animals are also intelligent and have a sense of right and wrong. The difference is only in the ways that we make both of those features explicit - i.e. how we are able to express our intelligence and our moral aptitude. Again, the distinguishing feature is in the way that we can use language to make these innate animal capacities emerge.
You want to claim that “beasts” are dumb and non-moral, but that idea is right out of the 17th Century! Again, like lisbliss has already said (and others as well), humans are not superior to animals - we are animals, however we can appreciate and communicate in ways that perhaps animals cannot. Yet we cannot change the color of our skin like a cuttlefish, we cannot fly like an eagle, we cannot do a myraid of other fantastic and superior skills without ravaging our environments (airplane travel) or brutalizing our fellow earthbeings (makeup testing), etc.. Or lastly, killing other members of our own species as though they were of an inferior grade or quality - think Iraqi children here.
Remember Roger, Rene Descartes wrote his famous Meditations in 1640 - that’s three hundred and sixty-five years ago - haven’t we learned anything since then? (Descartes also claimed that animals were mostly non-intelligent like atomatons.)