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...
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