Animal Rights: Rational Thought

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Sam Black PHIL 120: Animal Rights

Framing Question: The Nazi ‘researchers’ are at it again. A badly brain damaged human being subject A -- an adult with the permanent mental capacity of a one year old -- appears on your computer screen. He is thrashing around, spilling things, smearing food over his face, playing with the contents of his diaper, etc. ‘We will make him very uncomfortable, cutting down his food, refrigerating his room, depriving him of sleep,’ the Nazi-researchers convincingly say, ‘unless you push the button that kills subject B.’

Q1: Will you push the button if:
i. Subject B is 5 rabbits
ii. Subject B is 2 dogs
iii. Subject B is a trained chimpanzee with the language and cognitive skills of a human three year old (e.g. a cue card vocabulary of several thousand words).

Q2. If the capacity for “rational thought” is the basis for the right not to suffer, then does A have moral rights at all?

Q3. If the capacity for “rational thought” is not the basis for moral rights, but the capacity to feel pain is, then is favoring to A over B (in i, ii, and iii) like ‘racism’?

Q4. Could ‘membership in the same species’ be the basis for moral rights? Suppose the human species splits, and homo canuckus emerges. Most members of canuckus are dumb, but the occasional canuckus is an Einstein and has the mental capacities of a 5 year-old human being. Does the fact that A is a member of your species mean that you should favor A over an Einstein specimen of homo canuckus?

Q5: If individual animals have moral rights like all human beings, then is it permissible to eradicate 20 members of an invasive species (e.g. rats) when they overrun 2 members of an endangered species (e.g. rare birds)?

Q6: If animal species have moral value – that is not reducible to the rights of their individual members -- then is it morally permissible to: eradicate some sub-species (e.g. mosquitos that carry malaria); or to favor the preservation of charismatic species (e.g. lions over a rare variety of beetle)?

Tom Regan: ‘The case for Animal Rights’

Thesis/Conclusion: (SAR) the strong animal rights position. Def’n SAR: Animals have moral rights and those rights have equal weight to the moral rights of human beings.

This does not mean that animals have the exact same rights. Non-human animals don’t have a right to freedom of expression. But they do have rights not to be used as a mere means to the ends of others e.g. a right not to be killed for the sake of a good outcome (like feeding humans).

Regan -- Some Practical Implication of SAR:
a. Total abolition of the use of animals in science
b. Total dissolution of commercial animal agriculture
c. Total elimination of commercial and sport hunting and trapping of animals Simply minimizing animal pain does not go far enough.
The correct response in (a)-(c) does not depend on whether ‘human being’ is substituted in place of ‘animals’.

The Argument for SAR:
1. Moral Rights. The best moral theory is ‘rights-based’. (It holds that people have rights that are basic or not derived from other sources like a social contract, or the principle of utility. Moral rights trump other objectives like happiness, the common good, etc.) 2. The Basis for Moral Rights. The property that grounds moral rights is a lowest-common denominator or LCD property: a property that is common to all members of the human species, like sentience. 3. Many non-human animals are sentient (have the capacity to experience pleasure and pain, other experiences). 4. It is wrong to make any distinctions between members of the class of being that possess the property that grounds rights. 5. Therefore, all sentient creatures have moral rights with ‘equal weight’ to human rights.

The Arg for (1): Moral Rights
Regan provides a brief criticism of some rival moral theories, like contractarianism. Utilitarianism...
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