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Essay: The Controversies Surrounding Animal Rights: A Philosophical Perspective

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Sarah Simon

Professor Moore and Professor Hejny

 Environmental Philosophy

Friday, November 16th 2018

Animal Rights

Many controversies have been witnessed as to whether non-human animals have their rights or not and the real meaning of the term animal rights. However, there are a few disagreements about the acceptance of the fact that animals too have rights. Animal rights denote what is wrong as a matter of principle meaning that there are ways animals are not supposed to be treated. In this case, therefore, one should not violate these rights regardless of the cost to humanity. Tom Regan argues that the non-human animal’s rights should be equal to those accorded to humans. In this case, Regan maintains that all mammals over one year old have the same basic moral rights (Regan 13). Warren criticizes Regan’s ideas and does not believe that the animals' rights need to be equal those of human beings. In this regard, the ideas purported by Regan concerning the rights of non-human animals are rather controversial and hard to uphold.

Regan argues that the rights for non-human animals pass through three stages. The normal as well as mature mammals are conscious and bear mental capacities. They include emotions, feelings, some degree of awareness and sense of future (Warren 115). Regan also postulates that ‘subjects of a life’ have an inherent value- a concept that grows out of his opposition to utilitarianism. Regan highlights that the intrinsic value does not vary in degrees. Therefore, thinking that some creatures are of more value than others is a way of adopting a perfectionism theory, which in most cases may not work (115). He also applies the thesis for equal inherent value to all the ‘subjects of a life’ to give them strong moral rights. In his hypothesis, Regan underscores the principle of respect, which prohibits individuals treatment  of creatures that have intrinsic value as mere receptacles.

While writing the case for animal rights, Regan never assumed the language used by political and moral movements. The ideas have a clear boundary from the sentiments given by other utilitarian philosophers such as Singer, who does not recognize the notion of animal rights as a matter worth conceptualization. According to utilitarian’s, certain features in the world such as pain and pleasure, suffering and joy are both good and bad (Regan 17). Therefore, the right action to take is to focus more on the good things while avoiding bad things in life (18). In this case, they do not agree that morality is achievable through the protection of legal rights to things such as property and freedom.

  Regan argues that the right to life for human beings should also extend to animals. He does not support the idea by many individuals that animals do not have rights because they do not have responsibilities (Regan 20). Regan points out that most people argue that babies have rights even though they do not have responsibilities. Consequently, he states that having rights does not require responsibilities. The rights require one to be a ‘subject of life’   characterized by a set of features. It includes having beliefs, memory, desire, feelings, self-consciousness, sense of future, and the ability to initiate action to pursue goals.

Reacting to the ideas given by Tom Regan, Mary Warren postulates that the ideas purported by Regan about the strong animal rights position are very unpersuasive and the consequences contained in his arguments are not acceptable to any normal human being.  She accepts the fact that some non-human animals possess a sense of satisfaction, have feelings as well as experiences, which may also include pain. However, Warren accepts that to some extent some non-human animals have rights. Nevertheless, she does not agree that the rights of animals need to be equal to those of human beings as Regan argues in his book (Warren 115). In this regard, circumstances can override the rights of non-human animals, which may not be true with the case of human beings. For example, it is justifiable to kill an animal for some compelling reasons but this cannot apply to humans (115).  She, therefore, views the same as weak animal rights, which only apply to a range of animals.

The ideas purported by Regan concerning the rights of non-human animals are rather controversial and hard to uphold. According to Regan, these animals can feel their surrounding environment and have feelings among many other features which define the ‘subjects of al life.’ These creatures also have an inherent value. Therefore, they should be given equal rights as humans. In this way, he never agrees with the concept of responsibility as a basis of rights. Warren, on the other hand, states that Regan’s ideas for strong moral rights to non-humans are not true because the idea rests upon an obscure concept of inherent value which is not given a proper positive definition. Warren also states that the sentiments raised by Regan have failed to give any reasonable answer concerning the vast majority of sentient animals.

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