Kant vs. Regan: Who Has Inherent Rights, and Why?

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The difference between “right” and “wrong” is rarely plainly clear. Dozens of wars have been fought over the centuries that have been driven by differing moral beliefs. These rights, and actions motivated by them, are justified by a society’s collective morals, which begs the question- who decides what the collective belief of an entire society is? Some seem relatively clear—the right to life, the right to work—while others are significantly cloudier— how does my right to own property and freely express myself affect my neighbor’s right to have a safe, peaceful place to live? As the layers of these moral problems are uncovered we delve deeper into what rights are, and just as importantly, who has them and why? Philosopher Immanuel Kant’s believes that all persons have inherent value and he bases his view of human rights off of whether or not the person is capable of making moral judgments and having free will and reason. Just as it has been argued over time what exactly a right is, not all have agreed on who has a right and why they deserve it. Though Tom Regan gives much credit to the Kantian argument of value, he believes the ownership of rights goes slightly further- that it is not rationality that defines the ownership of rights, but rather being the “subject of a life”. Regan uses egalitarianism to argue that in order to believe that people have more inherent rights than animals would contradict the argument altogether because it would favor humans or Homo sapiens over other animals simply because of our species. This “speciesist” belief cannot be justified, Regan says, because it ignores the worth and inherent value of millions of subjects of lives.

First, before talking about the ideological differences between Kant and Regan, we must first discuss what exactly a right is. In layman’s terms, a right is something that a person should be morally allowed to have or do. Put simply, a right is a claim that one person has on another person; I have a right to be free, therefore I have a claim on others to respect that right, and leave me alone. For example, while some may believe they have an inherent right to choose their religion, others may feel that they are morally obligated to do whatever necessary to convert everyone to align with their own personal creed. There are different interpretations of how rights are granted, or earned, or if anyone or anything even inherently has rights at all. The majority of society agrees though, that nearly all humans, by nature of being human, are inherently created with certain inalienable rights and that these rights should be the most basic moral drivers of action or inaction. Kant’s view of rights is what he terms the categorical imperative; the line of thought that a persons duty lies in action driven with the intent of respecting the rights of others. By basing action on intending to respect the rights of others, all persons will not use others simply as means to an end and that consequences and results are insignificant if the intention is wrong. For example, if I attempt to create a virus that will destroy the reproductive capability of all humans in an attempt to eradicate the human race, but instead create a virus that cures and prevents all forms of cancer, I am acting wrongly, despite the positive consequences. Additionally, Kant believes that persons are capable of acting according to their duty and still be considered immoral, thinking that if I owe a person some money and repay him because I believe it will allow me to borrow more money in the future to benefit myself, rather than because I believe it is his right to have returned to him what was borrowed, than I am also acting wrongly. All “right” action should be derived based on the desire to have my rights as a human respected, and, turned around on itself, to have all persons human, moral rights respected as well.

Whether or not you agree with Kant, a utilitarian ends-justifies-the-means standpoint, or any...
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