Animal Rights and Inherent Values (Blog 17)

Tom Regan begins his argument for animals rights by denying that simply tidying up what he believes to be unjust institutions (factory farming, commercial and sport hunting and trapping, and the use of animals in scientific research) is not enough because tidying up these institutions does not get at the fundamental wrong. “The fundamental wrong is the system text-ellenthat allows us to view animals as our resources, here for us-to be eaten, or surgically manipulated or put in our cross hairs for sport or money.”[1] Therefore, Regan takes issue not with the details in each case of animal cruelty but rather the system as a whole. Regan then takes us through a few different moral theories that people have tried to apply to the case of animals right but he argue are insufficient or morally wrong. Contractarianism is the theory that individuals agree to and sign a contract of morality by which they judge their actions. This theory gives direct duties to those who have signed the contract and indirect duties to those who have not signed the contract but have some sort of value to those who have. Regan disputes this theory because it is abstract in its idea of who the people are who are signing the contract and leaves the door open for widespread right to life animalsoppression and discrimination. He then introduces the cruelty-kindness view, which is exactly what its name lends it to be; the idea that we should do that which is kind and not do that which is cruel and these are direct duties to animals. But Regan rejects this theory as well, which leads to utilitarianism. Regan explains that the appeal to utilitarianism lies in its egalitarianism, “everyone’s interests are counted and counted equally with the like interests of everyone else.”[2] However, this theory also allows for what was normally be considered unjust actions to be justified in that they brought about the best balance of satisfaction over frustration. Finally, Regan brings us to what he believes is the best animal rights theory. This theory places inherent value in all beings (humans and animals) and any action that curtails those rights would be morally wrong. The principles of this theory is based on the fact that all beings share at least one similarity: “we are each of us the experiencing subject of a life.”[3] Therefore, each of us has to respect that the other possesses inherent value.

            I take issue with Regan and his argument almost immediately. I think the issue arises in the fact that as Regan himself said, he is a philosopher tasked with explaining what we should do and why we should do it but not how we should do it. It is this lack of explaining how we should go about living in his version of moral rightness that makes me feel defensive to his arguments. He starts out by saying, “you don’t change unjust institutions by tiding them up”[4] and the rights theory that he advocates emphasizes an abolitionist approach to the use of animals in science, commercial farming and hunting and trapping animals. Now, at the risk of sounding like an extreme speciesist (which I’m not) I would argue that tiding up these institutions and putting in to place real restrictions and regulations is adequate (in most cases) if these institutions are fundamental to your society. Despite Singer’s wishes, the human population isn’t all of the sudden going to turn around and become vegans and vegetarians. This is where I take issue with Regan; he tells us that what not to do but does not give any answers on how to replace these institutions. Animal testing, and by this I am referring to meaningful animal testing, is extremely important for humans and their future well-being. Commercial farming is necessary to feed the growing human demand for meat and while I do believe that everyone needs to do their part in cutting back their intake of meat and animal products in light of the sustainability issue, both of these institutions are a fundamental part of human well being and to say that we must stop practicing both without offering any suggestions as to how and with what to replace them I just find it extremely hard to fully buy in to Regan’s arguments. I will say though, that in the end I do agree (for the most part, not with the complete abolitionist approach) with Regan’s rights theory. However, in the long road that it took for Regan to get to his idea I also found some agreement in the contractarian theory that was proposed. This is the second time this idea of a contract theory has been brought up. I have mixed feelings about the principles upon which the theory is built. I feel that I agree in some sense that certain duties to certain animals are indirect. However, this idea of a contract of direct duties is rather abstract and, as it was pointed out, assumes that all humans (besides babies and the mentally retarded) are privy to these direct duties provided by the contract, but this is not the case. I think under this theory we’d have to extend direct duties to all humans before we could extend them to animals. This is why I like the idea that the animal rights movement is also a part of the human rights movement. Which, I think may make it a little more relatable and easier for people to see the value in.


            Question: Is Regan’s extension of inherent value to all beings, regardless of whatever differences may exist between those beings, similar or the same as Rawl’s veil of ignorance?

[1] Donald VanDeVeer and Christine Pierce, The Environmental Ethics & Policy Book (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomas Learning, 2003), 143.

[2] VanDeVeer, 146.

[3] VanDeVeer, 148.

[4] VanDeVeer, 143.


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