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Tom Regan's Position in Religion and Animal Rights: Animals are Subjects-of-a-Life

By Kruelntentionz Jul 11, 2010 1467 Words
In the essay titled “Religion and Animal Rights” by American Philosopher Tom Regan, Mr. Regan maintains the position that animals are the “subjects-of-a-life”, just as humans are. If we want to ascribe value to all human beings regardless of the degree of rationality they are capable of, then in order to be consistent we must similarly ascribe it to non-human animals as well. He effectively uses a pathos and logos approach when he argues to his audience that that all practices involving the mistreatment of animals should be abolished rather than reformed, animals have an inherent value just as humans do, and emphasizes that unbridled Christian theology has brought the earth to the brink of ecological disaster.

Regan begins the essay by stating that “. . . few people regard the animal rights position as “extreme”, calling for the abolition of certain well-entrenched social practices rather than for their human reform” (Regan 688). He then compares animal rights to extreme moral positions such as Rape, Child Pornography, and Racial discrimination, stating that“. . . when an injustice is absolute, as is true of each of the examples just cited, then one must oppose it absolutely. It is not reformed, more humane child pornography that an enlightened ethic calls for; it is its abolition that is required” (Regan 688). This comparison technique between animal rights and emotionally stimulating topics is an effective use of pathos by association. What Regan is saying is the issue of animal rights is no different than the aforementioned ones. We must be totally against wearing animal skins, hunting animals for sport, and breeding animals for slaughter, not just against one or the other. In his eyes, cows that are slaughtered to make hamburger patties are no different than victims of a violent crime and rape, so it should stimulate the same emotional reaction. This belief is thought of by many to be an “extremist” view of animal rights and not generally accepted. But Regan writes, “There was a time when the shape of the earth was very generally believed to be flat, and when the presence of physical and mental handicaps was generally thought to make the people who bore them morally inferior. That very many people believed these falsehoods obviously did not make them true” (Regan 688). “The same can be said for the reverse that a view is not generally accepted is not a sufficient reason for judging it to be false” (Regan 688). He effectively proves that in history, people have been wrong about issues and logically targets those that may state since his view is the minority, he must be incorrect. His views are not normally accepted by the majority because he sees animals just as valuable as human beings.

Although we as humans feel we are superior to animals according to Regan, inherent value is something not just given to those of the Homo sapiens species, but to every living creature. He effectively compares the feeling of superiority we have over other species to past prejudices within our own. “Over the course of history, for example, many men have intuited the moral superiority of men when compared with that of women, and many white-skinned humans have intuited the moral superiority of white-skinned humans when compared with humans having different skin colors” (Regan 689). He goes on to say since prejudices within the human race are morally unmerited; prejudices involving species outside the human race must be unjust as well. This comparison effectively appeals to the readers ethically by relaying the message that prejudice is prejudice, whether it is inside the human race or not. How we treat animals today is just as wrong as how African Americans and women were treated in the past. This whole logical reasoning really makes you think as a reader. Regan has successfully compared the way we as human beings see animals today to that of past prejudices of American history. We now know that slavery is wrong and the ideology that men are biologically superior to woman is as well; and to Regan we are also wrong in believing that we as humans are superior to animals. Some say the inherent value that humans possess over animals comes from our psychological complexity, but this is challenged when Regan says, “Some nonhuman animals bring to their biography a degree of psychological complexity that far exceeds what is brought by some human beings. One need only to compare, say, the psychological repertoire of a healthy two year old chimp, or dog, or hog, or robin to that of a profoundly handicapped human of any age, to recognize the incontrovertible truth of what I have just said. Not all human beings have richer, more complex biographies than every nonhuman animal” (Regan 692). This is another effective example of logical comparison; Regan takes the common belief that we as humans are superior to animals because we are psychologically more complex than them and discredits it by giving us an example in which humans are not. His reasoning for not hurting animals is simple. They are just like us; they see, hear, touch and feel; but they also desire, believe, remember and anticipate. In the essay he says, “When the dead and putrefying bodies of animals are eaten, our psychological kin are consumed” (Regan 691). Regan’s strong stances towards vegetarianism are strongly combated by those of Christian faith who believe animals are inferior to humans and are to be eaten; a belief that he feels has been misinterpreted biblically and is fueling an ecological disaster.

The choice to be vegetarian is one given to those who have the financial means to practice it, if they choose to do so, but what about the struggling masses of people in the rest of the world, who really have no choice but to eat animals, wear their skins, and use them in other ways. Regan’s emotionally graphic response is this, “I have nowhere argued that people who eat animals, or who hunt and trap them, or who cut their heads off or burst their intestines in pursuit of scientific knowledge, either are or must be evil people. The position I have set forth concerns the moral wrongness of what people do, not the vileness of their character. In my view, it is entirely possible that good people sometimes do what is wrong, and evil people sometimes do what it is right” (Regan 695). Regan’s use of pathos is plentiful throughout the essay and this is just another example. By descriptively describing the cutting of animal heads and bursting intestines for scientific knowledge he exploits the reader’s emotions of sympathy and compassion and they become preoccupied with what he is really trying to say. He is stating people of Third World countries that depend on animals for survival are not necessarily evil people; they are just victims of circumstance and are forced to do things which he feels are morally wrong. Regan strongly defends his belief for animal equality to humans with his interpretation of the famous Judeo-Christian bible verse, “Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so” (New International Version, Genesis.1.29). This is a very powerful verse used by Regan to defend his belief that God created animals equal to that of human beings. The words, “everything that has the breath of life in it”, certainly relates to humans and animals alike while, “I give every green plant for food”, supports Regan’s beliefs that God intended for us to be vegetarians.

With effective use of pathos and logos Tom Regan sheds a new light on the way we as American’s treat our biological brothers. We may continue to eat meat and wear leather jackets even after reading this essay and hearing all of the analytical reasons as to why Mr. Regan believes we should not, but one thing is for certain, he definitely makes you think. He is very philosophical and clearly opens the minds of the reader and showers them with an anomalous way of thinking towards the human connection between humans and animals.

Works Cited
Regan, Tom. “Religion and Animal Rights” Reading Literature and Writing Argument. Custom Edition for OCCC. Ed. Missy James and Alan P. Merickel. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2008: 687-697. Print. The Holy Bible: Today's New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002

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