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Animal Rights

Essay by   •  November 6, 2010  •  2,620 Words (11 Pages)  •  1,759 Views

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What is the moral status of non-human animals? Do they have rights? This question, and all of it's complex entities, stands at the forefront among the most debated and philosophically dissected issues. To prove whether or not animals have rights without a doubt would forever change our treatment and use of animals as well as the world in which we live. The consequences of a definitive answer to the animal rights debate are numerous and profound which is why the issue continues to be argued for or against with the harshest of scrutiny. It is the goal of this essay to present and analyze justifiable argument for and against the concept of animal rights. Tom Regan is widely regarded as one of the greatest assets for the defense of animal rights. Carl Cohen denies the existence of said right. While they stand on opposite poles of this issue, they both agree that "What we conclude about animal rights will have consequences for the food we eat and the clothes we wear, and it will have direct bearing on the kinds of science we think morally justifiable."(viii)

Carl Cohen, a professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, determinately believes that animals do not have rights. More specifically, to Cohen, they cannot have rights. This by no means suggests Cohen is an animal hater. He values the concept of animal welfare and the humane treatment of animals though he draws a distinct line between welfare and rights. "Animals do not have rights. This is not to say that we may do whatever we want to animals or that everything commonly done by humans to animals is justifiable...we humans have a universal obligation to act humanely, and this means that we must refrain from treating animals in ways that cause them unnecessary distress."(5) Cohen maintains that animal welfare, which can quickly cloud the understanding of animal rights, is not at all the issue in this debate. That being said, what Cohen argues is that abolitionists views, which object to any use of animals to further human interest, do the human race an incredible disservice. The abolitionist claims are based on the distinct fact that animals have rights and because they have rights they are to be respected to the same degree as human rights. It now becomes Cohen's job to prove animals do not and cannot possess rights. Cohen states, "The abolitionist argument (I will show) confuses and misuses the concept of right, mistakenly applying it in a sphere in which it has no application." And That, " we will come confidently to the conclusion that the use of animal subjects in medical research is not only practically necessary but is morally justifiable from every point of view."(9) Cohen feels a large contributor to the animal rights campaign stems from the fact that if one is willing to admit humans have an obligation to protect the welfare of animals, they must also admit animals have rights. Cohen says this is not so. To substantiate this claim Cohen gives considerable attention to providing a clear understanding of the relationship between right and obligation. While he feels humans are obligated to treat animals humanely, Cohen argues that it is not because they have the right against us to be treated so. This relationship of right and obligation is the foundation of his case against animal rights. As previously stated, Cohen agrees that it is our obligation to treat animals humanely and not cause them unnecessary pain and suffering, but it is not caused by their right against us. He further acknowledges that obligations are in fact a direct result of rights held against a target. For instance, as expressed by Cohen, my obligation to repay money borrowed from a friend is caused by his right to collect said debt from me. Clearly it can be inferred that obligations are a result of the rights held by another. "But we may not correctly infer, from the fact that all rights impose obligations on their targets, that all obligations owed arise because one is the target of the rights of another." This statement is of great significance to the validity of Cohen's argument. If it is true that all obligations are owed due to the rights of others, then it must be true that because we are obligated to animals, they do in fact have rights. Cohen believes examples defeating this argument are evident in every day life. One such example is as follows: "Obligations arise from commitments freely made by a moral agent. As a college professor, I promise my students explicitly that I will comment at length on the papers they submit, and from this express commitment obligations flow, of course. But my students understand that they have not the right to demand that I provide such comment." (28). It is therefore, to Cohen, proven that obligations owed not only come about from the rights of others and that it is possible to be obligated to animals though they don't possess rights. Cohen's argument continues saying that we, as the moral agent, are obligated to the humane treatment of animals only because we should. We recognize that sparing pain and suffering to fellow humans is moral and simply apply that regard to lesser creatures. "We are restrained by moral principles in this way, but being so restrained does not suggest or suppose that the animals to whom we owe humane regard are the possessors of rights."(30) Realizing that humans, not animals, are the moral agent in our relationship is further argument against animal rights. Cohen feels that the concept itself of "right" is human. It exists only in our world and cannot be applied to animals. "To say of a pig or rabbit that it has rights is to confuse categories, to apply to its world a moral category that can have content only in the human moral world."(30) Cohen, it seems, now needs to prove that ideas such as "right" and "morality" do not exist it the animal world to substantiate his claims thus far. To do so he gives example to actual animal behavior.

Take for instance a lioness hunting for her cub. We have no problem accepting that a lion killing a zebra for food is not immoral. Cohen says that if that zebra had any rights at all it had the right to not be slaughtered. In other words, the zebra has rights that the lion is infringing upon, yet humans do not intervene in such a case. Going further Cohen supposes it were a baby at the edge of a forest the lion we intending to make prey. Clearly we would not let this happen. Cohen maintains this is because we recognize there is a large difference in the moral status of humans and that of zebras. He states, "Rights are pivotal in the moral realm and must be taken seriously, yes; but zebras, and lions, and rats do not live in a moral realm- their lives are totally amoral. There is no morality for them, animals do no moral wrong, ever. In their

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