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Animal Rights

The Basic Issue: What is the status of non-human animals? What obligations, if any, do we have towards
non-human animals?


Intuitively, there is a difference between humans and non-human animals. What specifically is the
Genetic code?


The only relevant consideration is: Can they suffer? Alternatively, are they sentient?

Principle of Equality: We must treat others with equal consideration regarding all relevant factors.

A liberation movement demands an expansion of our moral horizons and an extension or reinterpretation
of the basic moral principle of equality. RT 167.

There are differences between species. Thus, there will be differences in treatment:
A dog cannot vote
Therefore, a dog does not have the right to vote.

Notice, this is a factual difference that justifies a difference in treatment.

Argument from Suffering

1. We must grant others equal consideration for all similar factors.
2. Both humans and non-human animals can suffer.
3. Therefore, we must count the suffering of human and non-human animals with equal

Racism and sexism (and other ism’s) are simply arbitrary discriminations. Singer would have us
extend this same factor to speciesism.

But we need animals for food.
We get lots of medical information from animal experimentation.

Singer’s Retort:
Not necessary for food.
We don’t get as much medical information as people think.

Singer’s Challenge: Find some characteristic that rules out animals and rules in infant humans.
Interesting Note: PETA has been trying to by advertising space on network TV for over a decade that
shows footage from slaughterhouses. The courts have ruled that the showing of such footage violates
decency laws.


Machan’s Proposed Characteristic: A being has rights if and only if it is capable of moral responsibility
(praise and blame).

This makes the ascription of rights to animals a ‘category mistake.’

Animals are on a continuum. Hence, we may not simply treat animals in any way we choose.

An argument in favor of animals having rights:

There is no difference in kind between animals and humans, only a difference in degree.
Even if there is a difference in kind, the differences don’t matter, only the similarities do.
We can all suffer.
Therefore, we should take into account the suffering of animals just as we do the suffering of

Why do we matter more than animals?

There is a natural hierarchy in the world. (Animals matter more than rocks)
Things higher up naturally are subject to evaluation (some trees are better than others)
Things at the top involve a moral evaluation.

Normal human life involves moral tasks, and that is why we are more important than other beings in
nature—we are subject to moral appraisal, it is a matter of our doing whether we succeed or fail in our
lives. RT 183

The argument against rights:

1. A being has rights if and only if it has moral responsibility.
2. Humans have moral responsibility.
3. Animals do not have moral responsibility.
4. Therefore, Humans have rights and animals do not.

What about infants? What about the severely disabled?

What do rights do? Two classic answers:

Rights protect choices
Rights protect interests

On one model, animals may not have rights, along with infants. On the other, both do.

Does Singer’s challenge still stand? Or has Machan answered it?