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Should Animals Have Rights Or Not?

Updated October 13, 2020
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Should Animals Have Rights Or Not? essay

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Throughout history, animals have been used by the humans in various ways: domesticated as loyal companions, served as health minerals, killed for their fur and skins, transportation, performers, fought in wars and sports. There is a debate happening in the world whether animals should have rights or not. Some people say that humans can recognize moral claims and are able to reason. Thus, only humans are being morally considered whereas animals do not need to be morally considered. In this paper, I will refute the argument that animals do not deserve to have rights. This is because both animals and humans seek food and shelter to ensure their survival. Therefore, animals should be granted with rights and to be morally considered. Philosophical views on this issue can be grouped into three general categories: Indirect theories, direct but unequal theories, and moral equality theories.

Indirect theories say that animals are not worthy of moral status. Reason is that animals lack of consciousness, reason or independence. My use of the phrase ‘moral status’ is according to definition written by Jaworska, Agnieszka and Tannenbaum, Julie, in “The Grounds of Moral Status” which states that an entity has moral status if and only if it or its interest morally matter to some degree for the entity’s own sake. Philosophers that formulated arguments in this category are Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Rene Descartes (1596-1650), and many religious view theories.

Many of philosophers in this category believe that animals do not have rights and we do not need to treat them in a humane way. According to Kant, autonomy means the capacity of an agent to act in accordance with objective morality rather than under the influence of desires. His theory was that both animals and humans have desires that would influence them to make certain decisions to satisfy the desires. However, only humans are capable of resisting their desires and choose which action to take. Since animals lack this ability, they easily comply to their desires, therefore are not autonomous. The humans’ ability to evaluate the consequences using moral values is what makes us deserve a very strong moral status.

Another philosopher that agreed that animals do not have rights is Rene Descartes. He denied the animals rights because animals are not conscious. Humans action won’t have an effect on unconscious animals. Descartes argues that animals are automata that act as if they are conscious, but really are not so. (Regan and Singer, 1989: 13-19) Philosophers who agreed to this view believed that all of animal behaviour could be explained in scientific terms. On the other hand, a lot of human behaviour cannot be explained using science. According to Descartes, there’s two reasons: human beings are capable of complex behaviour and humans are able to express thoughts using words. We are able to react using our reasoning instead of reacting simply on stimuli responses. Yes, some animals can make sounds that thought to constitute speech, like parrots “speak”. Descartes was aware of that, but he argues that these utterances are mere mechanically induced behaviours. (Wilson, S.D., Animals and Ethics, The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy)

Lastly on the category of indirect theories is the religious theories or the worldview. Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) made a clear expression on denying animals warrant direct moral concern using religious and philosophical theories of the nature of the world. According to Aristotle, there is a natural hierarchy of living beings. The different levels are determined by the abilities present in the beings due to their natures. While plants, animals, and human beings are all capable of taking in nutrition and growing, only animals and human beings are capable of conscious experience (Wilson, S.D., Animals and Ethics, The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy). Therefore, this view made them believe humans are superior to animals. Using the capability to reason, humans believed they are meant to guide the animals and use them to serve any needs of human beings. The beings that are on top of the food chain are naturally expected to use the other lower in the food chain in whatever way serve its interests. So, this behaviour is natural and does not require moral justification.

I am now going to write about the consequences of the indirect theories. If it is proven correct, then we wouldn’t have to assess our actions before acting on the animals. However, we still need to consider how our actions will affect the animals. This is because there are restrictions regarding the treatment of animals. Immanuel Kant argues: Our duties towards animals are merely indirect duties towards humanity. (Regan and Singer, 1989: 23-24).

These theories would mean that animals should be treated properly based solely on the need for human beings to behave morally, rather than on the rights of animals. Humans should have moral awareness. Humans would know that causing pain and suffering is morally wrong even though the victim is animal. Humans would act morally regardless the victim has any rights or not. As mentioned previously, humans would not do these morally wrong actions not because it would violate the rights of the victim, but because it would diminish the moral standing of the person. Therefore, human beings should not be cruel to animals. Personally, I think that these theories are selfish. In short, indirect theories do not agree that animals have rights.

Whereas, direct but unequal theories agree that animals should have some moral status but deny fullest moral consideration. As animals cannot reciprocate the same respect and morality equally to humans, they only deserve some but not equal rights. This would mean some of the interest of animals count directly in the evaluation of actions that affect them. I would like to divide this category into two parts: the claim that animals have direct moral status, and the claim of animals are not equal to human beings. First, I would use the word “sentience” to support the claim of animals have rights to direct moral status. The word simply means the ability to perceive one’s environment, and experience sensations like suffering, pleasure and comfort. It is said in this category that animals have rights because of the three terms. First, the being has direct moral status if it is sentient. And secondly most animals are sentient. Therefore, these animal beings have direct moral status and rights.

The second part is why animals are not equal to human beings. To justify this view claims were made. Some philosophers pointed out that only humans are able to own property. An individual that has a right to something must be able to claim that thing for himself, where this entails being able to represent himself in his pursuit of the thing as a being that is legitimately pursuing the furtherance of his interests (Cf. McCloskey, 1979). While animals lack at this area, they can’t represent themselves in this way, they are not entitled to rights. Although animals may not have rights, human beings are still “responsible” for their well-being. Human rights mean an individual are not permitted to do an action that would violate that person’s rights. However, our duties to refrain from violating a person without rights can be so call “trumped” if it would result in a better consequence. For instance, I have a duty to not bring any harm your property but, if in doing so could save a life or save the world then my duty would be trumped.

People who are in the category of agreeing to direct but unequal moral status to animals would think that animal testing are acceptable. This is because we are not permitted to harm animals without any good reason. However, like experimenting on animals would prevent harming human beings, then it is justified to harm animals. If this is what people believe in then such practices like experimentation that uses animals, raising and breeding animals for food, and using animals for entertainment in zoos or circus will all be justified and ignored.

They claimed that only humans have rights; humans are rational, autonomous, and self-conscious; able to act morally; so only humans are part of the moral community.
On the other hand, some philosophers view that animals should have equal rights and equal moral status as humans. This category is where I stand my position on this ongoing debate. This category of theories argues by the similarity of animals’ physiological and mental capacities as infants or disabled human beings. To support my argument that animals have rights, I will be including the famous philosophers’ theories that had contributed in this category: Peter Singer and Tom Regan. Peter Singer is a very influential philosopher in the debate of concerning animals and ethics. His influence has encouraged powerful movement in both the United States and Europe. Singer do not agree with the theories of humans are superior to animals or animals are less important than humans. He attacks these views and wish to grant animals with equal consideration as human beings. According to Singer, the view that only humans are morally considered is “speciesism”. Singer gave a name for this view which is speciesism.

The racist violates the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests of members of his own race, when there is a clash between their interests and the interests of those of another race. Similarly, the speciesist allows the interests of his own species to override the greater interests of members of other species. The pattern is the same in each case. (Singer 1974: 108)

Singer argues that we must extend principle of equal consideration of interests to animals instead of just on human beings. Over 150 million animals are slaughtered for food around the world each day – just on the land. That comes out to 56 billion land animals killed per year. Including wold caught and farmed fishes, we get a daily total closer to 3 billion animals killed (Zampa, M. 2019, March 7). To not give animals their rights and moral claims, like racism, it is discrimination based on species and it is prejudicial. It is just funny that our species deserve moral status but not other species. We separate ourselves from the animal kingdom by creating moral systems and other valuable practices. We created human supremacy, simply because we think humans are more intelligent and rational. But it is not right to make intelligence, rationality, or self-consciousness the basis of moral principle. Not all humans satisfy the basis of moral principles so why would humans be the only species deserving of moral status and rights?

The implication of this principle of equal consideration of interests to animals is that before making any actions, the effects of that action that will have on the animals’ interests have to be consider equally as we would with humans. As I mentioned above in Cartesian Theories, animals are capable of experiencing pain and suffering. Therefore, animals with rights have an interest in avoiding that pain or suffering. This would mean that all of our humans’ practices and actions that would harm or violate the rights of the animal would be required to an immediate end. For example, no more animals being raised for food in the factories or farms. As this practice brings unimaginable pain and suffering to animals. With this theory, humans will no longer be able to kill animals to satisfy their needs for animal minerals. Argument provided by Singer is that the rights that animals have in avoiding getting killed and eaten is much greater than the interests humans have in eating delicious meats. In short, animals hunting, keeping animals for human entertainment and many more actions that would prevent them from engaging in their natural activities are all condemned by the practice of the Principle of the Equal Consideration of Interests.

Singer is not the only philosopher that have impacted greatly on this issue, Tom Regan has one of the most influential works on the topic of animals’ rights and ethics. Regan argues that animals knows they exist in this world, they are aware of what is happening to them, and what happens to them matters. Each life no matter what species or are self-conscious or not is a life, therefore should be respected and protected.

I have chosen to stand at the side but not completely of the morally equal view because if we do accept this view, it would mean any animal creatures would have rights, including those simple organisms. For example, animals as simple as an earthworm would be entitled to the same rights as humans have, and it just does not make sense. I feel like animals that are higher in the food chain and are capable of higher mental ability would make sense on being granted with equal rights. Animals are part of our environment and are living creatures. They have needs to satisfy like us, breathing, food, shelter and survive. Despite our differences, we and they are in some way the same as we need all those above needs to satisfy. If we are morally good humans, then we should extend our rights to animals. Do our duties to protect them from abuse and massive animal killing. By giving animals equal rights would mean that a cow should have the right to vote. See, it would not make any sense. Therefore, I think animals must to be granted with rights but not the same and completely equal to humans. Animals and humans should be able to share the same basic moral right, the right to be treated with respect. There are ways we can use to satisfy our interests without harming animals. To illustrate, we should find alternatives to animal skins and nutrients we can get from animals.

Given all of the theories, I would like to conclude that there are a lot of considerations that should be done before giving animals their rights. It is a very complex topic, animals and ethics are very closely interlinked. The victor in this ongoing debate between animals have rights and animals do not have rights are still remain undetermined. The philosophy of animal rights stands for, not against justice. We must not violate the rights of the few in order to benefit the many. The fundamental demand for animals’ rights is to treat humans and nonhuman animals with respect. It is therefore seeking for peace. Peace is boundaryless, we must extend our rights to nonhuman animals. It is like we are having an undeclared war between the humans and the nonhumans. If we not find a middle ground to this issue, we might have animals slaughtering humans and using humans for their own interests.

Should Animals Have Rights Or Not? essay

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Should Animals Have Rights Or Not?. (2020, Sep 09). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/should-animals-have-rights-or-not/

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