Animal Rights Essay, Research Paper
The question of animal rights is one that people have been debating heavily since the sixties. In the beginning it was thought that animals had no intelligence what so ever therefore we have no responsibilities towards them. Traditional philosophers, such as Aquinas, Descartes, Malebranche, and Kant, defended the view that our obligations toward animals are only indirect. For these philosophers, animals are unconscious biological organisms which operate by brute instinct, and only appear to be capable of experiencing pain. Malebranche offered the theological argument that all suffering is a consequence of Adam’s sin and, since animals are not descended from Adam, then they cannot feel pain. However, all of these philosophers caution that it is wrong to torture animals, not for the animal’s sake, but because this desensitizes people towards suffering which they may then inflict on another person. You also have more modern philosophers and scientists who feel differently. These philosophers such as Tom Regan and Tibor Machan do not agree with the more basic theory of the older philosophers. Nearly all the external signs lead us to believe pain in other humans can be seen in other species, especially the species most closely related to us, mammals and birds. The behavioral signs include writhing, facial contortions, moaning, yelping or other forms of calling, attempts to avoid the source of the pain, appearance of fear at the prospect of its repetition, and so on. In addition, we know that these animals have nervous systems very like ours, which respond physiologically like ours do when the animal is in circumstances in which we would feel pain: an initial rise of blood pressure, dilated pupils, perspiration, an increased pulse rate, and, if the stimulus continues, a fall in blood pressure. Although human beings have a more developed cerebral cortex than other animals, this part of the brain is concerned with thinking functions rather than with basic impulses, emotions, and feelings. The ability to experience pain is found in all vertebrate animals as such, animals while not able to possess the same rights as humans still should be guaranteed some rights that all feeling things deserve.
Tom Regan’s position is best presented in his essay, “The Case for Animal Rights” which is a summary of his 1985 book by the same title. For Regan the problem with current attitudes is that they view animals as resources, and not as beings with inherent value. Regan begins by attacking theories of indirect obligation towards animals. The traditional views maintains that animals are not capable of feeling pleasure and pain. This view has few advocates today, and Regan therefore does not address this approach. However, contemporary social contract theory also holds that we have only indirect obligations toward animals, but for different reasons. Social contractarianism maintains that, even though animals feel pain, human pain is the only pain which is morally significant. For, direct obligations apply only to those who contract into a moral system, and this requires understanding the nature of the contract. Morality is like a club you can join, only if you know the rules of the club. And, since animals cannot understand the rules of the club, they cannot be members and thus cannot have a direct moral standing. Animals such as dogs and cats have a special place in the hearts of club members, so these animals acquire an indirect moral standing. But, other animals such as rats are not cared about so their moral standing is virtually non-existent. Regan criticizes contractarianism since, in theory, it could make morality into a highly selective club, and exclude members on the basis of gender, race, religion, or any other arbitrary factor.
In his essay, “Do Animals Have Rights?” Tibor Machan attacks all theories which extend direct obligations to animals, including both Regan’s view and the utilitarian view. Machan notes two reasons for why some believe that animals have rights. First, following Darwin, it has been argued that humans and animals differ only in degree, not in kind. Thus, it is improper to draw a clear line between humans as rights-holders, and animals as nonrights-holders. Machen argues we are justified in using animals for our human purposes since we are more important than animals (although not uniquely important). Machen says that within nature there is a scale of importance, where animals are more important than rocks. Further, at each level in nature, there are distinct criteria which make some members of that species better than others. For example, an oak which resists disease is better than an oak which does not. A carnivore with claws is better than it would be without claws. Distinctly moral criteria enter only when we reach the human level. For, only humans are judged better or worse on moral criteria. For Machen, our fundamental human task is to succeed as human beings which requires that we learn. Learning, in turn, often involves using animals, as with animal experiments in the field of medicine.
Machan?s view is a very insensitive view point, yet it is one that makes more sense. As dominant beings on earth it is our ability to do anything we want to with anything less powerful than us. This may also include humans as well. This may not be the most moral thing that could be accomplished but as it is said history is written by the victors. If Hitler would have won World War II we would have had a completely different out look on life but he did not win the war and we still have our way of life. As it turns out the American society has evolved to respect every things right to be free from pain and oppression (and what ever else our foreign policy stands for) This could be applied to animals as well if we wanted to practice what we speak. Animals are beautiful things and need to be respected as anything beautiful is respected. You do not needlessly dismember a priceless Van Gouge for the sheer fun of it, you admire its beauty.
All information was taken from the following sources found on the internet.
[A] Patrick Bateson, “Do Animals Feel Pain?” New Scientist,
April 25, 1992, p.30-33.
[B] David Foster, “Animal Rights,” The Associated Press, December
[C] Bernard Rollins, Animal Rights and Human Morality
Buffalo, N.Y., Prometheus Books, 1992.
[D] Peter Singer, Animal Liberation,
New York: Avon Books,1990.