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Do Animals Have Rights? a Philosophical View

Essay by   •  September 8, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  4,124 Words (17 Pages)  •  1,787 Views

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Do Animals Have Rights?

Should animals be harmed to benefit mankind? This pressing question has been around for at least the past two centuries. During the early nineteenth century, animal experiments emerged as an important method of science and, in fact, marked the birth of experimental physiology and neuroscience as we currently know it. There were, however, guidelines that existed even back then which restricted the conditions of experimentation. These early rules protected the animals, in the sense that all procedures performed were done so with as little pain as possible and solely to investigate new truths. Adopting the animals' perspectives, they would probably not agree that these types of regulations were much protection, considering the unwanted pain that they felt first followed by what would ultimately be their death. But, this is exactly the ethical issue at hand. For the most part, animal rights are debated in regards to two issues: 1) whether animals have the ability to rationalize or go through a logical thought process and 2) whether or not animals are able to experience pain. However, "it will not do simply to cite differences between humans and animals in order to provide a rational basis for excluding animals from the scope of our moral deliberations" (Rollin 7). This, Bernard Rollin claims, would be silly. He says that to do this is comparable to a person with a full head of hair excluding all bald men from his moral deliberations simply because they are bald. The true ethical question involved is, "do these differences serve to justify a moral difference?" (Rollin 7). Also, which differences between humans and non-humans are significant enough to be considered in determining the non-human's fate?

Over the years, many differences have been proposed. Some theorize that rights depend upon the ability to possess interest, which in turn depend upon the ability to form verbal formulations, for example. If this were so, then it would rule out the possibility of rights for most animals, with maybe the exception of some primates. But, as Rodd states, "beings incapable of possessing genuine rights might possess moral status in virtue of other qualities, such as the capacity for suffering" (Rodd 4). So, it is easily seen how many views have accumulated over time. The task of determining animal rights has also come into the context of examining these inherent differences on qualitative and quantitative levels. We can say, for instance, that on a qualitative level, a cow is less intelligent than a human. But, we must then determine, on a quantitative level, how much more unintelligent that cow really is when compared to humans. And, once we decide that, we must then decide if that margin of intelligence is enough for us humans to slaughter that cow in order to benefit human kind from its products.

Questions like this and others, which are very similar, have become the snowballing debate over the question of animal rights. Where do we draw the line? How do we determine the value of another being's life? Well, up to this point, we as a society have been pretty confident in judging the lives of millions of animals worldwide (or so we can conclude by looking at the number of animals sacrificed each year for the purpose of experiment, education, goods, etc.). We must first step back and analyze the ethical dilemma at hand and then proceed to carefully weigh its consequences.

If we examine the question of animal rights cautiously, it is most often viewed as an ethical dilemma as opposed to an economic or cultural issue. This is due to the fact that a life is at stake and we, as humans, must decide if we are justified to take that life, while in the process inflicting suffering, in order to benefit society as a whole. We must almost play God, in a sense, in deciding which animal lives are expendable and which are valuable enough to allow to remain living. This ethical dilemma almost assigns a value to life. The debate over animal rights asks if it is worth killing innocent animals in order to benefit such items as education, material production or human medicine. Looking at this argument, one might say that humans are greedy and disrespectful of God's creation. But, are we supposed to try experimental medicines and surgical procedures on humans and risk their death? Or is it better to educate students about anatomy and physiology through the sacrifice of animals? Ethically, does the end justify the means? David Lee Miller argues that for us to engage in a strictly ethical conversation on the topic of animal rights, "we would do well to suspend our individual material interests in the outcome of the discussion" (Miller 3). I agree with Miller here that to speak of the determination of animal rights on an ethical level, which is where it should be, we certainly cannot be concerned with how nice it would be to have a full-length mink coat or a fabulous alligator purse. It must come down to the ethics of killing an animal for the sake of the value of its life and not for the sake of weighing the amount of money you will receive for the sale of one hundred pounds of beef. But, simply by looking at how large this debate has grown, we can see that making this separation is very difficult. Often times, material interests get in the way and lead our ethical thought astray. But can it be alright to allow these interests to take charge? This all depends on your ethical standpoint regarding the assignment of rights to animals. If you believe their rights to be non-existent, then what do you care if millions of them are killed? On the other hand, if you see all life as equal then the "senseless" killing of animals is comparable to the slaughter of innocent human beings. There are many viewpoints concerning this issue that need to be dealt with in order to fully grasp the mindset of those so deeply involved in the struggle to determine what, if any, rights that animals possess.

Tom Regan, a professor of philosophy at North Carolina State University and one of the leading proponents of this theory, claims that animals have "rights" Ð'- the right to be treated in a certain way. Regan claims that animals have preferences, goals, and most importantly, mental states that enter into the explanation of their behavior. In his words, animals are "subjects of a life" just like humans and each subject of life contains "inherent value". What Regan means by this is that by performing experiments on animals, you are reducing them to mere tools and violating their basic rights. He justifies his theory by using an example containing the retarded and insane. He says that if these types of persons are allowed moral rights, despite their inability to think rationally,

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