Thedebate on animal rights began in the nineteenth century, but no clearconclusions have been made on whether animals have rights or not.However, many people agree that animals feel pain in the same way ashuman beings. Animals have an inherent value that justifies the needto protect them from undue cruelty. The rights of animals need to begiven an equal consideration to those of humans. The concept of equalconsideration does not mean that animals and humans are equal, buttheir needs should be assessed on the same criteria. Although it isargued that rights should be attributed to entities that have thecapacity to claim them and make rational choices, it is evident thatpeople in coma, mentally ill, and children do not have theseabilities, but they still enjoy full rights as normal humans.Therefore, the attribution of rights is based on other factors (suchas inherent value), and not the properties of an individual entity.
Keywords: Marginal human, equal consideration, inherent value, animalrights.
Humanbeings have historically used animals to fulfill different needs, butthe issue of animal welfare has raised serious concerns as to whetherthey have rights or not. Although some of the popular advocates ofanimal rights (such as Peter Singer) engaged in the debate in themiddle twentieth century, studies indicate that some countries (suchas Canada) had formulated laws and animal right movements as early as early 1887 (Ontario SPCA, 2016). The research question to beaddressed in this paper is, “do animals have rights?” This paperwill address the argument for as well as the arguments against theidea of animal rights. Although it is reasonable to argue thatanimals lack moral consciousness as well as the ability to makerational choices, the fact that they have the capacity to feel pain,the existence of marginal humans, and the concept inherent valueindicates that animals have rights.
Argumentsfor animal rights
Thefact that animals are living things justifies the attribution ofrights to them. The lack of moral consciousness alone, as theopponents of the idea of animal rights argue, cannot be used to denycreatures their inherent rights. Although it is correct to state thatanimals do not have moral consciousness, there are studies showingthat most of them (including dogs and elephants) have some degree ofintelligence like human beings. There is a group of people who hold aview that all non-human creatures do not have the moral status, whichdenies them the inherent value of life. However, Rowlands(2013)stated that animals have a higher value than plants, which isconfirmed by the fact that it is a different thing to chainsaw aliving tress and to do the same to an animal. This implies thatanimals count and they have some inherent value that should beconsidered when handling the. The aspect of intelligence may not be aclear indicator of the possession of rights, but it suggests thatthere are some common features that exist between animals and humanbeings. The most probable aspect that is common in animals as well ashumans in the inherent value. An argument that is based on theacknowledgment of rights to entities on the grounds that they havethe right to life has been advanced by several scholars, includingTom Reagan. Tom Reagan advanced an argument that animals have aninherent value that justifies the need for human beings toacknowledge and respect their rights (CAWR, 2016).
Theterm “inherent” is used to mean that rights that are posses byanimals are not acquired, but they are provided by nature.Consequently, any viable argument on possession of rights should bebased inherent values, instead of autonomy, rationality, morality,and other qualities that are possessed by human beings and not byanimals. All entities that are subjects-of-life have inherent rightsto be treated with care and lead a life free of unnecessary harm. Theopponents of the idea of the right to life hold that Reagan’sargument could be used to justify the rights to plants as well.However, there are three tenets that are used to identify entitiesthat have an inherent value. These tenets include the fact thatevents should make a significant difference to an individual entity,continuing to live would matter to an individual organism, and whathappens in life has a meaning to an individual organism (Ormandy,Griffin & Dale, 2011). The possession of these features byanimals is confirmed by an observation of animals that are confirmedin zoos.
Animalsand human beings have an equal capacity to suffer and feel the pain.Peter Singer introduced an argument that all entities that have acapacity to feel the pain have the right to be given an equalconsideration with respect to the way they are handled or treated.Tester(2014) addedthat human beings should not only extend their humanity and kindnessto domestic animals (such as dogs), but to all non-human animalssince they have the rights to be treated fairly. This argument isfounded on the theory of utilitarian, which holds that people areexpected to engage in actions that are likely to provide a netmaximum happiness to the majority of the concerned parties. From theutilitarian perspective, the argument of the idea of animal rightsshould be based on an equal consideration of animals’ capacityundergo suffering and feel pain in the same way as human beings do.The argument should not be based on the question of whether animalscan talk or reason.
Humanbeings subject animals to pain, bearing in mind that they also feelpain. This phenomenon can be explained using the concept ofspeciesism,where the members of the human species tend to assume that they arethe only ones who can feel the suffering (Edmundson,2015).The tendency to exclude animal suffering from the list of items thatare supposed to be considered when handling animals can be equated torace-based prejudice, where individuals of the dominant racesmistreat those of the minority races. Similarly, human beings havethe powers and a high level of intelligence that allows them tocontrol other living things, including the animals. However,prejudice does not deny the living things that are discriminatedagainst their inherent rights. The use of a utilitarian calculuswould indicate that the principles and rules that seem to demarcatethe legal protection of people would apply the same way to non-humananimals.
Theexistence of marginal humans
Themajority of the proponents of the idea that animals do not haverights hold that non-human entities neither have the capacity toreason nor the moral consciousness. This argument can be extended tohuman beings and lead to a conclusion that there are classes ofpeople who do not have the right. For example, people with mentalillnesses and children cannot make rational decisions (LePan, 2010).Using the moral concept to assess the rights of children and thementally ill humans would lead to an argument that they are notcomplete human beings, thus they do not have equal rights to normaladults. In the real world, children and the mentally ill persons areprotected by the law since there is a general perception that theyare human beings with some developmental limitations. This introducesthe aspect of prejudice where animals are denied rights and yet theysuffer from the same limitations as children and persons living withmental illnesses. These individuals cannot make rational choices orassess the moral background of their actions.
Theargument that humans should be given a special treatment should besupported by a clear demonstration of the key properties that areonly possessed by people and not by any other living thing, includingnon-human animals. The possession of human DNA, being human, and theability to walk upright are not adequate grounds to give people aspecial treatment over non-humans. Studies have shown that there aresome human beings who do not possess properties that are consideredto be predominant in humans (LePan, 2010). For example, the abilityto reason, make decisions, act, and lead an autonomous life havehistorically been considered as unique properties that distinguishhuman beings from non-humans. However, individuals in a permanentcoma have none of these properties, which imply that the issue ofattributing rights to an entity goes beyond the properties a givenspecies.
Secondly,it has been argued that the ability to have rights should be based onone’s level of intelligence. Scholars who hold this view argue thatright is one of the key moral principles that can only be applied tohuman beings (LePan, 2010). This line of thought leads to an argumentthat rights can only be attributed to individuals who have thecapacity to claim them. The capacity to make a claim for one’srights indicates a significant difference between humans andnon-humans. Both non-human animals and humans can feel pain, but itis only human beings who can claim their right to be protected fromundue suffering. An entity needs a high level of intelligence inorder to make a decision to exercise a given right and understand aset of rules that govern all beings including themselves.
Argumentsagainst animal rights
Thedebate on the ability of animals to possess rights has receivedsupport and opposition in equal measures. There are three keycounterarguments that have been put forward to oppose the notion thatanimals have rights. First, from the philosophical point of view, anattempt to attribute rights to non-human objects and living things(including animals) can lead to a conceptual mistake. Killing animalsas a source of food would be considered to be an illegitimateinvasion of their rights if it would be possible for human beings tosustain themselves by using or eating animal products. In otherwords, human beings have the liberty to use animals as well as theirproducts to satisfy their (Abbate,2015).In addition, the concept of moral status makes a significantdifference between human beings and their counterpart animals.Philosophers who uphold this moral concept hold that rights can onlybe attributed to an object or a being that is self-conscious. Animalsare not self-conscious, which implies that rights cannot beattributed to them. Consequently, it is morally permissible for humanbeings to use animals as well as their products to fulfill theirneeds, such as nutritional requirements. However, this view is heldby those who support the idea of deliberative democracy, which theentities with more power control those that are less powerful(Garner,2016).Therefore, the use of animals to satisfy human needs does not meanthat they do not have the right, but they only lack the power. Humanbeings take advantage of the animals’ powerlessness to exploit anddeny them their rights.
Third,scholars who oppose the idea of acknowledge animal rights hold thatanimals were created to satisfy the needs of human beings, whichimply that their fate is always in the hands of humans. This idea iscommon in the field of animal testing where scientists argue thatanimal models should be used to test the efficacy of different drugand the development of various diseases before clinical trials can beperformed on human beings. This is another way of using human beingsto address human needs (Abbate,2015).Human beings and their rights to lead a life free of suffering thatis caused by diseases come first. However, the argument on the rightto satisfy human needs through animals and their products does takeaccount of the cruel treatment that many people subject animals to inthe process of extracting their products.
Theconcept of animal rights implies that animals should be set free ofhuman exploitation and cruel treatment, irrespective of the fact thatthey cannot make rational decisions as humans do. This is becauserights of an individual are inherent, but not acquired during alifetime. A creature that has life and the capacity to comprehendwhat is going on in its surrounding has an inherent value that cannotbe denied on any grounds. In addition, the needs and the sufferingsof both animals and non-humans should be given an equalconsideration. Therefore, animals have inherent rights, although thisidea does not imply that they are equal to humans. Future studiesshould investigate whether the concept of duty can be used to advancethe idea of animal rights.
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