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Philosophical Ethics - Do Animals Have Rights or Not?

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Philosophical Ethics

Do animals have rights or not?

                The simple answer to me is, no. In this paper, I will argue that animals don’t have rights. If animals were to have rights, the same logic should then apply to plants as well, and they should have rights too! I agree with Cohen that although animals do not have rights, it is our moral obligation to treat them in the right manner, avoiding any unnecessary torture or harm. I therefore disagree with Regan, who is not a consequentialist, because he claims that animals have rights.

                Cohen completely rejects the idea that animals have rights because he claims that the concept of rights is essentially human. To justify his view, Cohen writes, “A right (unlike an interest) is a valid claim, or a potential claim, made by a moral agent, under principles that govern both the claimant and the target of the claim” (91). Cohen is reminding us that for a right to exist, both parties must acknowledge the presence of that right, and that same right is most probably ensured by either an existing government or moral obligation. For example, in a scenario where money is borrowed between two people, it is understood that the borrower must return this money to the lender in the future because that is the lender’s right, and a violation against this right can result into legal action. And, if say a promise is made between two parties, even though there might not be a regulation to ensure that promise, since a legal contract lacks, one is still compelled to fulfill it due to moral obligations (Cohen 91). Consequently, the notion of rights and wrongs are completely foreign to animals because they do not have the conception of rights, and thus cannot be the bearers of it (Cohen 96).

Since animals do not understand rights, they can never do wrong. Cohen introduces Regan into his argument, and Regan writes:

A moral patient lacks the ability to formulate, let alone bring bear, moral principles in deliberating about which one among a number of possible acts it would be right or proper to perform. Moral Patients, in a word, cannot do what is right, nor can they do what is wrong. … Even when a moral patient causes significant harm to one another, the moral patient has not done what is wrong. Only moral agents can do what is wrong (Regan 152-153; Cohen 96).

In other words, Regan reports animals to be moral patient's, which are species who cannot formulate their own moral laws (Cohen 97). Due to this lack of cognitive capacity amongst animals, whatever an animal does cannot be classified as right or wrong, because they don’t know any better. In their world, rights do not exist. Moral agents or humans, on the other hand, can lay out their moral laws and thus this concept of rights is relevant in the human moral world only (Cohen 95).

Cohen supports that rights exist in a human moral world because it is a human concept. The law of the jungle is a counterclaim to philosophers who believe that animals have rights, especially in terms of the right live (Cohen 92). This law is based over the reality of how some animals in the jungle kill other animals just so the predator could to feed upon its prey and survive. For example, a lioness would kill a baby zebra to feed herself and her cubs. Cohen writes, “If the zebra has the right to live, if the prey is just and the predator unjust, we ought to intervene, if we can, on the behalf of right. But we do not intervene” (95). In his view, if an animal has a right to live, then the right to live of one animal has been violated in this scenario, and accordingly this law of the jungle must be stopped to sustain rights of prey animals. However, this implied idea of interference in means to prevent this so called ‘rights violation’ is an irrational one because the moral structure for animals is inherently different than that of humans (Cohen 95). Rights are therefore universally human since they arise and are only applicable in the human moral sphere (Cohen 97).

We can all agree that humans clearly and undeniably have rights, especially the right to live. Medical advances that have provided vaccines to protect human lives would not have been possible without the substantial testing on animals (Cohen 92). Cohen writes, “There will be no way to determine the reliability of and safety of new vaccines without the repeated tests on live organisms” (92). The essence of his argument here is that if these ‘supposed’ animal rights were brought into action, all medical testings would have to stop. Thus, the medical benefits provided to humans with these testings would go away, and the human life will be more prone to illness, resulting in many preventable human deaths consequently. Therefore, this quest to enforce these ‘supposed’ animal rights would be interfering with ‘existent’ human rights, the right of survival of humans, and hence animal testing is justified (Cohen 92).

Regan disagrees with Cohen. Even though Regan does accept the reality of the law of the jungle, he still believes that medical animal testing is wrong. He writes, “The harms others might face as a result of dissolution of [some] practice or institution is no defense of allowing it to continue” (Regan 346; Cohen 93). In making this comment, Regan claims that rights of humans should not outweigh the rights of animals. The issue for him here is justice, and the animal testing is simply not a just to him (Cohen 93). He is not a consequentialist and thus his theory would not only stop animal testing from which we reap so many benefits from, but it would also prevent the consumption of animal meat as food in the human world.

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