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Regan Vs Cohen Animal Rights

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Phil 110B

Essay 2

Sunday March 27/2016

Word count: 1408        

Animal rights have been growing as one of the most controversial and complex moral dilemmas of the 21st century.   There has been endless debates arguing for both sides and many philosophers have tried to come to moral conclusions by taking into account different perspectives and issues when presenting their arguments. In his paper “The Case of Animal Rights” Tom Regan, a professor of philosophy at North Carolina State University, argues his belief that our moral decisions should not bring harm or suffering to animals as they are subjects of a life and thus their lives have inherent value and any immoral action against them is not morally justifiable. In contrast, in “The Case of the Use of Animals in Biomedical Research” Carl Cohen a philosophy professor at the University of Michigan Medical School, argues that while animals should not be made to suffer needlessly, they have no moral rights and that we should embrace speciesism when considering the moral dilemmas of animal rights because it is not the case that all sentient beings have equal moral standing. When evaluating these 2 stances, I find fault in both perspectives and believe that they focus too much on the black and white where the true answer is probably less binary. However I do agree more with Carl Cohen simply because I understand the importance of medical research and acknowledge its merits and while I do believe animals should not be mistreated, I am in favor of the speciesism view that humans are on a higher moral ground than animals.

        Central to Tom Regan’s philosophy is his subject of a life criterion: any being with complex perception, desire, belief, memory, intention, and a sense of the future is a subject of a life. Regan argues that there is considerable evidence that points to an understanding that most animals indeed are subjects of a life, as opposed to biological beings without moral agency. Regan uses this criterion to ground his case for the basic rights of animals.

Regan argues that because each subject of a life is an individual who cares about his or her life, that life must have inherent value. This inherent value is equal among all subjects of a life because it is a binary matter: either one is a subject of a life or one is not. Inherent value does not come in degrees, and it is not dependent on the individual's experiences or utility to others. Regan does not deny that experience and usefulness to others do have value, but he asserts that individuals have moral rights based on their inherent value rather than value to others.

According to Regan, human and animal rights are validated with respect to moral principles, most important of which is justice. Here, Regan's view conflicts with the utilitarian view, by which a wrongful act against an innocent is justified if it brings about the greatest net utility. Regan also defends his view as preferable against the perfectionist theory, by which a being’s moral status is based upon the degree to which he or she possesses certain attributes (intelligence, artistic ability, etc.), a view which can lead to the unfair exploitation of those with lesser degrees of these chosen attributes. Regan asserts that justice is our paramount duty and by his respect principle, all subjects of a life, as a matter of justice, have a basic moral right to respectful treatment, which recognizes their inherent value.

        Carl Cohen on the other hand, argues that animals have no rights on the basis that rights are claims that one party may exercise against another and thus only beings who can make or claim moral rights have rights. This entails that rights are inherently a human trait because only humans confront moral issues and choices. Thus Cohen concludes that since animals have no rights then conducting experiments on them is not a violation of their rights because there is nothing to violate as it does not have a right to its life. However he is careful to make the distinction that rights are not equivalent to obligations, and that even if they do not have rights humans are not morally free to treat animals in any way we please. Even though animals may not have rights but we as humans may have obligations to them (a cat does not have the right to food and water but as pet owners we have the moral obligation to provide these things). However Cohen stresses that to treat animals humanely is not the same as treating them as if they were holders of rights.

         Cohen believes that the capacity for moral judgment that distinguishes humans from animals is also of consent. Humans, given their moral agency, are of such a kind that they may be the subject of experiments only with their voluntary consent and the choices they make freely must be respected.  It is impossible however for animals to give or withhold voluntary consent or to make a moral choice.  Human beings can act immorally, but is it the case that the line drawn between moral and immoral actions is inherently human, as we adhere to some moral rule when deciding if an action is moral or not moral and to be performed or not to be performed. It is this lack of moral standing that forms the basis of Cohen’s allegiance to speciesism, or the belief that sentient beings are unequal. He stresses that the pains suffered by animals in experiments are what helped us develop advances in medicine and that not experimenting on animals is immoral because of the loss of benefits to humans who are above animals in moral standing and unlike animals, are holders of rights.



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