Animal Rights

Ten Reasons against Animal Rights and Replies by Dr Tom Regan

(1) You are equating animals and humans, when, in fact, humans and animals differ greatly

We are not saying that humans and other animals are equal in every way. For example, we are not saying that dogs and cats can do calculus, or that pigs and cows enjoy poetry. What we are saying is that, like humans, many other animals are psychological beings, with an experiential welfare of their own. In this sense, we and they are the same. In this sense, therefore, despite our many differences, we and they are equal.

(2) You are saying that every human and every other animal has the same rights, which is absurd. Chickens cannot have the right to vote, nor can pigs have a right to higher education.

We are not saying that humans and other animals always have the same rights. Not even all human beings have the same rights. For example, people with serious mental disadvantages do not have a right to higher education. What we are saying is that these and other humans share a basic moral right with other animals – namely, the right to be treated with respect.

(3) If animals have rights, then so do vegetables, which is absurd.

Many animals are like us: they have a psychological welfare of their own. Like us, therefore, these animals have a right to be treated with respect. On the other hand, we have no reason, and certainly no scientific one, to believe that carrots and tomatoes, for example, bring a psychological presence to the world. Like all other vegetables, carrots and tomatoes lack anything resembling a brain or central nervous system. Because they are deficient in these respects, there is no reason to think of vegetables as psychological beings, with the capacity to experience pleasure and pain, for example. It is for these reasons that one can rationally affirm rights in the case of animals and deny them in the case of vegetables.

(4) Where do you draw the line? If primates and rodents have rights, then so do slugs and amoebas, which is absurd.

It often is not easy to know exactly where to “draw the line.” For example, we cannot say exactly how old someone must be to be old, or how tall someone must be to be tall. However, we can say, with certainty, that someone who is eigty-eight is old, and that another person who is 7’1″ is tall. Similarly, we cannot say exactly where to draw the line when it comes to those animals who have a psychology. But we can say with absolute certainty that, wherever one draws the line on scientific grounds, primates and rodents are on one side of it (the psychological side), whereas slugs and amoebas are on the other – which does not mean that we may destroy them unthinkingly.

(5) But surely there are some animals who can experience pain but lack a unified psychological identify. Since these animals do not have a right to be treated with respect, the philosophy of animal rights implies that we can treat them in any way we chose.

It is true that some animals, like shrimp and clams, may be capable of experiencing pain yet lack most psychological capacities. If this is true, then they will lack some of the rights that other animals possess. However, there can be no moral justification for causing anyone pain, if it is unecessary that humans eat shrimp, clams and similar animals, or utilise them in other ways, there can be no moral justification for causing them the pain that invariably accompanies such use.

(6) Animals don’t respect our rights. Therefore, humans have no obligation to respect their rights either.

There are many situations in which an individual who has rights is unable to respect the rights of others. This is true of infants, young children, and mentally enfeebled and deranged human beings. In their case we do not say that it is perfectly all right to them disrespectfully because they do not honour our rights. On the contrary, we recognise that we have a duty to treat them with respect, even though they have no duty to treat us in the same way. What is true of cases involving infants, children and the other humans mentioned, is no less true of cases involving other animals. Granted, these animals do not have a duty to respect our rights. But this does not erase or diminish our obligation to respect their’s.

(7) God gave humans dominion over other animals. This is why we can do anything to them that we wish, including eat them.

Not all religions represent humans as having “dominion” over other animals, and even among those that do, the notion of “dominion” should be understood as unselfish guardianship, not selfish power. Humans are to be as loving toward all of creation as God was in creating it. If we loved the animals today in the way humans loved them in the Garden of Eden, we would not eat them. Those who respect the rights of animals are embarked on a journey back to Eden – a journey back to a proper love for God’s creation.

(8) Only humans have immortal souls. This gives us the right to treat the other animals as we wish.

Many religions teach that all animals, not just humans, have immortal souls. However, even if only humans are immortal, this would only prove that we live forever whereas other animals do not. And this fact (if it is a fact) would increase, not decrease, our obligation to insure that this – the only life other animals have – be as long and good as possible.

(9) If we respect the rights of animals, and do not eat or exploit them in other ways, then what are we supposed to do with all of them? In a very short time, they will be running through our streets and homes.

Somewhere between 4-5 billion animals are raised and slaughtered for food every year, just in the United States. The reason for this astonishingly number is simple: there are consumers who eat very large amounts of animal flesh. The supply of animals meet the demand of buyers. When the philosophy of animal rights triumphs, however, and people become vegetarians, we need not fear that there will be billions of cows and pigs grazing in the middle of our cities or in our living rooms. Once the financial incentive for raising billions of these animals evaporates, there simply will not be billions of these animals. And the same reasoning applies in other cases – in the case of animals bred for research, for example. When the philosophy of animal rights prevails, and this use of these animals cease, then the financial incentive for breeding millions of them will cease, too.

(10) Even if other animals do have moral rights and should be protected, there are more important things that need our attention Рworld hunger and child abuse, for example, drugs, violence to women, and the plight of the homeless. After we take care of these problems, then we can worry about animal rights.

The animal rights movement stands as part of, not apart from, the human rights movement. The same philosophy that insists upon and defends the rights of nonhuman animals also insists upon and defends the rights of human beings. At a practical level, moreover, the choice thoughtful people face is not between helping humans or helping other animals. One can do both. People do not need to eat animals in order to help the homeless, for example, any more than they need to use cosmetics that have been tested on animals in order to help children. In fact, people who do respect the rights of nonhuman animals, by not eating them, will be healthier, in which case they actually will be able to help human beings even more.