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  • Subject area(s): Philosophy
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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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From animal rights activists to scientists, there is a continuous debate as to whether all sentient animals should be treated with the same level of equality.  I believe that human beings should treat all animals equally, depending upon their characteristics, and intend to defend this position.  Author Peter Singer argues with me, as he says that we should reject ‘speciesism’, the assumption of humans being superior to other animals, and extend ‘the basic principle of equality’ to all sentient animals, which states that animals deserve equal consideration as human beings when it comes to their welfare.  I will begin my argument using Peter Singer’s aforementioned premises as a defense.  From there, I will proceed by supporting Singer’s argument using Michael Pollan’s factory farming application and Tom Regan’s explanation of inherent value.  Then, I will rebut Mary Anne Warren’s argument against inherent value and the basic principle of equality.  Lastly, I will infer conclusions based on these arguments.

I believe that animals and humans should be treated equally.  Animals should have rights on the basis of the ability to perceive.  Humans are complex, multidimensional beings who, as of today’s society, have been given rights based on the idea that they are able to think and feel pain.  Many animals are able to think, and, to some degree, are definitely able to feel pain.  As such, nonhuman animals should be given the same rights and treatment as humans do, as we are all able to think and feel pain.  To show the same thought process, Peter Singer argues his support for animals in his essay, titled All Animals are Equal.  First, he outlines his idea of the basic principle of equality.  The basic principle of equality states that all animals deserve equal consideration as human beings when it comes to their welfare (Singer 8).  To Singer, the suffering of any being is equal to the suffering of any other being, concurring with my thoughts that both human and nonhuman animals are able to feel pain (Singer 8).  According to Singer, any other principle is seen as arbitrary (Singer 7-9), saying the following:

“If we point to significant differences between humans and animals – in intelligence, capacity for self-awareness, moral capacity, ability to plan for the future, ability to have meaningful relationships with others – we will confront the fact that there is variation within the human species of these capacities (infants, permanently cognitively impaired, etc).

The one necessary and sufficient condition for having a right to equal consideration is the capacity for suffering and enjoyment, because this capacity is necessary and sufficient for having interests at all” (Singer 7-9).

As such, Singer believes that his principle is the only one that should be accepted, as it is the only principle that addresses the variation within species (Singer).  I also believe that Singer’s principle is the only one that considers the idea that allows for more commonplace standards to be held for all beings.  Rather than pointing to intelligence as the requirement for rights, Singer points to how the animals are individually and who they are as a species.  

Moreover, I believe that ethical farming of animals for nutritional purposes should be required of all agricultural institutions.  It has been proven to be more cost effective, as animals raised ethically require just as much, if not less, land as animals raised immorally.  Conserving the environment is one of the highest priorities of ethical farmers.  Lastly, ethical farming has humanity’s best interest, as it prioritizes the animal’s best interest.  By that logic, the same, if not more, product will be available for human consumption.  To add on to my reasoning, Michael Pollan supports Singer’s equality treatment of animals, applying the policy to factory farming in his article, titled An Animal’s Place.  Although Singer criticizes the practice by stating that factory farming is not justifiable due to the method inflicting suffering on many animals, Pollan states that so long as the practice is suitable, the domestication of animals for food is permitted (Pollan).  He comes to this conclusion because Singer’s basic principle of equality does not entail equal treatment.  Even though Pollan concurs that factory farms are places where moral philosophy and animal cognition do not coincide, he also mentions that the ethical treatment of animals with domestication are just since the relationship is a mutual agreement, saying the following:

“Both parties were transformed by the relationship: animals grew tame and lost their ability to fend for themselves (evolution tends to edit out unneeded traits), and the humans gave up their hunter-gatherer ways for the settled life of agriculturists…From the animals’ point of view, the bargain with humanity has been a great success, at least until our own time” (Pollan 9).

A mutualistic relationship and the ethical treatment of domesticated animals warrant enough evidence to show support for Singer’s basic principle of equality.  Although a mutualistic relationship based on farming may be condemned by animal rights activists, it is condoned by Singer, Pollan, and myself.  Building an ethical, mutualistic farming relationship relates to my thoughts because it takes the characteristics of animals into account (in this case, their needs and ideal conditions to produce goods).  Furthermore, ethical farming still gives animals rights as it takes evolutionary attachment into account.

In addition, setting a sufficient standard for the treatment of animals is necessary in order to have a true judgment on an animal’s rights.  Tom Regan believes that all people have inherent value, a justified standard for the treatment of animals, in his book, The Case for Animal Rights.  Regan describes inherent value as having value as individuals (Regan).  To him, inherent value is something that makes humans multi-dimensional (Regan).  Regardless of demographics or assets, we all have inherent value equally.  At the same time, our inherent value should be treated with respect and should not be demeaned.  Mistreating others based on their inherent value is immoral, as that is a violation of that person’s rights.

Regan’s main reason for thinking that we cannot limit inherent value to human beings is that regardless of being a human or an animal, we all experience the subject of life (Regan).  Whatever our usefulness to other people, we are all conscious individuals that value our wellbeing in society (Regan).  Our experiences, emotions, feelings, and frankly, our existence, are aspects of all of our lives (Regan).  They impact what occurs in life, as well as the quality of our life.  

Utilizing his same logic, I can see that based upon experience alone, animals deserve to have a chance at being treated fairly.  Animals experience just as many monumental events as humans, such as birth, creation of new life, families, community, friendship, and death.  Since they experience the subject of life as we do, we ought to treat them with the same respect that we give ourselves, as they are also contributing individuals to their species.

Mary Ann Warren critically disagrees with Singer and Regan in her essay, Difficulties with the Strong Animal Rights Position.  She critiques Regan by saying that inherent value is an obscure idea (Warren).  To her, inherent value is defined negatively, applies to individuals, is ‘non-natural’, is unclear as to how it connects to moral rights, and because it does not come in degrees, thus separating species (Warren).  Furthermore, Warren says that stating that all species have inherent value will have dire consequences, such as the mass killing of any species or ecologically-motivated killing (Warren).

To Warren, moral rights come in degrees of strength, depending upon the mental aptitude of a species.  In essence, ‘higher beings’ are capable of suffering greater losses.  She continues by stating that killing animals is permissible in order to protect humans’ well-being; this is because predation is woven into our common evolution (Warren).  Furthermore, killing animals protects an ecology, as current environments require mechanisms of population control (ex. Natural selection) (Warren).  Lastly, she states that by recognizing moral equality of others, we may or may not receive the same recognition from other species (Warren).  This is because the ethics between humans and other species is contrary; we cannot reason and resolve conflict with other species as we can with humans.

Mary Anne Warren’s critiques of Singer and Regan can be rejected as speciesism.  First, Warren’s claims of moral rights varying in degrees overlooks the idea that all species, including humans, are protected with Singer’s basic equality principle.  His principle provides a justified standard for all beings, as it takes all of their characteristics into account, not just their intelligence level.  As such, the second and third positions Warren has are unnecessary.  Furthermore, utilizing Pollan’s ideas behind ethical farming for food, it is not needed to kill animals to cull herds or protect humans, as humans and domestic animals already have a symbiotic, mutualistic relationship from domestication and farming.  Regardless of the extent of farming, the number of species decreases inevitably due to natural selection; as such, the idea behind killing animals immorally is unnecessary, as nature takes care of unruly populations.  If anything, ethical farming provides more equality and satisfies human well-being, as they produce healthier products in higher quantities, benefitting us all as a society.  Dire consequences are avoided because there is no need for strategic killing of animals.  Lastly, inherent value is a clear, defined concept.  Regan states that the experiences that one has in life are valid enough to warrant a species having inherent value.

Depending upon their characteristics, humans ought to treat animals equally.  Based upon the basic equality principle, ethical farming, and inherent value, it is clear that there is no reason to not treat animals with respect.  We owe it to ourselves, as well as natural selection, to give animals rights on the basis that humans have rights, as we owe our ancestors to take care of our evolutionary relatives.  Providing ethical treatment to animals benefits us all, showing that we have civilization in an uncivilized society.

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