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We use it here only because if you read the literature of animal rights you will encounter it often, and it's important to know what it means. We do not intend to denigrate the status or worth of any human being by using it here The problem with the line of thought in the section above that it takes rights away from many human beings as well as from non-human animals.

This is because some human beings babies, senile people, people with some severe mental defects and people in a coma don't have the capacity for free moral judgement either, and by this argument they wouldn't have any rights. Some philosophers are prepared to argue that in fact such 'marginal human beings' don't have rights, but most people find that conclusion repellent. But this is not an argument; it's a statement that human beings have rights and non-human animals don't, which is pure speciesism , and hardly persuasive.

It's also vulnerable to the probably unlikely arrival of a species of extra-terrestrial creatures who demonstrate the capacity for free moral judgement. Search term:. Read more. This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets CSS enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience.

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Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets CSS if you are able to do so. This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving. Ethics guide. Animal rights. On this page Animal rights The case for animal rights The case against animal rights Animals aren't 'moral' Moral community Fundamental rights The problem of 'marginal people' Page options Print this page.

Animal rights There is much disagreement as to whether non-human animals have rights, and what is meant by animal rights. There is much less disagreement about the consequences of accepting that animals have rights.


The consequences of animal rights Animal rights teach us that certain things are wrong as a matter of principle, that there are some things that it is morally wrong to do to animals. Human beings must not do those things, no matter what the cost to humanity of not doing them. Human beings must not do those things, even if they do them in a humane way. Accepting the doctrine of animal rights means: No experiments on animals No breeding and killing animals for food or clothes or medicine No use of animals for hard labour No selective breeding for any reason other than the benefit of the animal No hunting No zoos or use of animals in entertainment Top.

The case for animal rights Philosophers have usually avoided arguing that all non-human animals have rights because: the consequences are so limiting for humanity it would give rights to creatures that are so simple that the idea of them having rights seems to defy common sense The second problem is dealt with by not arguing that all animals have rights, but only that 'higher' animals have rights. The case for animal rights The case for animal rights is usually derived from the case for human rights. The argument grossly oversimplified goes like this: Human animals have rights There is no morally relevant difference between human animals and adult mammals Therefore adult mammals must have rights too Human beings and adult mammals have rights because they are both 'subjects-of-a-life'.

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This means that: They have similar levels of biological complexity They are conscious and aware that they exist They know what is happening to them They prefer some things and dislike others They make conscious choices They live in such a way as to give themselves the best quality of life They plan their lives to some extent The quality and length of their life matters to them If a being is the subject-of-a-life then it can be said to have 'inherent value'. All beings with inherent value are equally valuable and entitled to the same rights.

The case against animal rights A number of arguments are put forward against the idea that animals have rights. Animals don't think Animals are not really conscious Animals were put on earth to serve human beings Animals don't have souls Animals don't behave morally Animals are not members of the 'moral community' Animals lack the capacity for free moral judgment Animals don't think St Thomas Aquinas taught that animals acted purely on instinct while human beings engaged in rational thought.

Animals are not really conscious The French philosopher Rene Descartes, and many others, taught that animals were no more than complicated biological robots. Animals were put on earth to serve human beings This view comes originally from the Bible, but probably reflects a basic human attitude towards other species.

However, as C. Lewis pointed out: We may find it difficult to formulate a human right of tormenting beasts in terms which would not equally imply an angelic right of tormenting men.

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Lewis, Vivisection. Animals aren't 'moral' Some of the arguments against animal rights centre on whether animals behave morally. Rights are unique to human beings rights only have meaning within a moral community only human beings live in a moral community adult mammals don't understand or practice living according to a moral code the differences in the way human beings and adult mammals experience the world are morally relevant therefore rights is a uniquely human concept and only applies to human beings Animals don't behave morally Some argue that since animals don't behave in a moral way they don't deserve moral treatment from other beings.

Animals don't have rights against other animals Another reason for thinking that animals don't behave morally is that even the most enthusiastic supporters of animal rights only argue that animals have rights against human beings, not against other animals. For example, as Mary Warnock put it: May they [animals] be hunted?

Animal Rights as a Mainstream Phenomenon

Moral community This argument states that animals are not members of the 'moral community'. All non-human animals lack the capacity for free moral judgment. Therefore, non-human animals do not have moral rights. Fundamental rights Animal and human rights boil down to one fundamental right: the right to be treated with respect as an individual with inherent value.

Philosophers have a traditional way of expressing this: Animals with rights must be treated as ends in themselves; they should not be treated by others as means to achieve their ends. The problem of 'marginal people' The phrase 'marginal people' or 'marginal human beings' is unpleasant.

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