Human Rights and Philosophical Theories
We live in a society where many people fight for rights of their specific groups. Women’s rights, African American’s rights, and rights for handicapped people are just a few examples. Now these are all groups, where people verbally fight for their groups, but what about animal rights? Animals cannot speak or communicate for themselves, they are unable to defend themselves and fight for their rights in our world. Many philosophical theories are used to decide whether or not something is ethically right or ethically wrong, but the theories are pertaining to humans and are species prejudice. We will review animal rights, concerns, and how animal rights are looked upon when applying different ethical theories. We will also conclude that the deontology theory would be most in benefit of animals in the case of animal right whereas the utilitarian theory would be in the greatest benefit of humans when looking at animal rights.
There are many big differences between animals and humans. Even within the different species of animals you have many differences. It is nearly impossible to compare an insect to a wolf for example. So when studying animal rights activists’ articles and media, it is hard to agree and say animals are equal to humans. Even when comparing animals to humans who are mentally ill and cannot communicate, there is still a huge difference. Humans are able to communicate with one another where animals have their way of communicating as well but it is tough to compare their way to ours. If an animal is mistreated, it is impossible for that animal to speak up for itself and seek protection. Sometimes animals find protection but this is because humans will stick up for them and act as their voice. Utilitarianism states; “This arrangement, more than any other, will be the most beneficial to the greatest number of people.” (Mosser, 2013) Note the word people at the end. So how does this affect other species? So when applying this to animals, automatically we look at how humans are affected by the way animals are treated.
We use animals for our resources and have for a very long time. Not only are they part of our 3-course meal but due to testing on animals, cures are found for diseases and often even things like make-up are tested on animals first to make sure no harm will come upon humans. This is not fair to animals and often while being used for food and testing they are mistreated and abused in the process. Sad as this is, would you choose an animal’s right over a cure for cancer being found? It is really tough to think of issues like this. Many animal rights activists will argue that animals have right too, and although they do, when looking at most humans, animals just simply come second.
A person’s life at the end of the day has more meaning then an animal’s life. In recent years more produce at grocery stores has become caged free, many companies and farms advertise a more humane kind of farming. When you think about it though, whether the animals are treated right or not, they are still getting butchered to end up on our dinner plates. Now there is a great deal of vegetarians and even vegans but they still do not make up a large part of overall society and probably never will.
Animals have feelings and do deserve a fair treatment but according to the utilitarianism theory, whatever is being judged has to be ethically right for the greatest number of people. As people we eat animals, we test on animals to find medical cures, we use animals to make clothing, and we use animals for a variety of other reasons and a variety of other types of testing as well. “The fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as our resources, here for us — to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or exploited for sport or money. Once we accept this view of animals – as our resources – the rest is as predictable as it is regrettable.” (Regan, 1986) Although his point as an animal rights, as an animal activist is clear and valid but would you offer a human life for an animal life? The answer is no.
As an animal lover myself I do not want to see animals being mistreated. I try to buy produce that advertises cage free animals and enjoy pets. Too say that animals are equal to us in any way is far-fetched. “We begin by asking how the moral status of animals has been understood by thinkers who deny that animals have rights. Then we test the mettle of their ideas by seeing how well they stand up under the heat of fair criticism. If we start our thinking in this way, we soon find that some people believe that we have no duties directly to animals, that we owe nothing to them, that we can do nothing that wrongs them. ” (Regan, 1986) When reading this you have to question if his thoughts pertain to all animals or not. If he only cares about mammals but steps on a spider, another animal rights activist may come along and say he is being unfair because he is only an advocate for certain species of animals.
“The great appeal of utilitarianism rests with its uncompromising egalitarianism: everyone’s interests count and count as much as the like interests of everyone else. The kind of odious discrimination that some forms of contractarianism can justify – discrimination based on race or sex, for example – seems disallowed in principle by utilitarianism, as is speciesism, systematic discrimination based on species membership.” (Regan, 1986) You have to draw the line somewhere as far as I’m concerned. “There are many other obvious ways in which men and women resemble each other closely, while humans and other animals differ greatly. So, it might be said, men and women are similar beings and should have equal rights, while humans and nonhumans are different and should not have equal rights.” (Singer, 1989) Nobody can argue with this statement but one might say monkeys are very close to humans in their appearance and in many of their capabilities.
Yet humans are humans and we are the top of the foods chain. Facts also state that most people are not vegetarians, most people wear animal skins, and most people are for and not against animal testing for medical reasons. I believe that animals should have rights but that those rights should not be in any way equal to humans rights. Their rights should pertain to minimizing suffering. “If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration.
No matter what the nature of the being, the principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the like suffering—in so far as rough comparisons can be made—of any other being.” (Singer, 1989) According to the utilitarianism theory, this would benefit the greatest number of people because people could continue to use animals as their resources, and by minimizing suffering the animals would also be in a better place ethically then they are now.
Now let’s look at the deontology theory. “Deontology focuses on the duties and obligations one has in carrying out actions rather than on the consequences of those actions.” (Mosser, 2013) So when looking at this, animals would have the greatest benefits. If we apply this theory we would not be cruel, we would not test on animals. When applying this theory we would not care that human lives will be saved if animals were tested on. Basically testing on animals would be looked upon as cruel and inhumane so therefor when not caring about the outcome, it just would not happen. Basically animals are mistreated but at the end of the day, even if they were not abused and treated wrongly, what we do to them for our reasons is ethically wrong no matter how you look at it. The deontologist would not do wrong in the beginning and therefor we would not mistreat and abuse animals and the outcomes of us not doing so would be neither here nor there.
Virtue ethics is a little bit tougher to apply in this case. Virtue ethics looks at the character of the individual committing the act and looks at if this person is genuinely a good person or not. What the act is would be considered to be good because a good person would not commit a bad act because it is out of their character to do so. When trying to apply this theory here it is a little tough. Someone could be a great person but still eat meat or still use products that are tested on animals. So although that person is not himself or she committing the bad act against the animals themselves they are still benefitting from the act committed. It is very tough to apply this and analyze this because it can go so many different ways.
Basically when looking at animal rights it is a very tough topic to apply ethics to. Animals do not have the ability to speak or defend themselves and whether people and especially animal right activists want to admit it or not, we come higher above them in the food chain. Our knowledge and capabilities as humans makes us very dominant over any other species. That is just a fact that cannot be denied. It is however not fair that we use animals as our resources but if you had to choose between ending an animal’s life or a family member’s life, what choice would you make? I think even the most extreme of animal rights activists would have a tough time with that choice if they were faced with it.
So when applying the theories, the deontology theory acts in the greatest benefit of the animal while the utilitarianism theory is in the greatest benefits of humans when it comes to the topic of animal’s rights. Animals would not be hurt but humans would not be saved if the deontology theory were applied. When applying the utilitarianism theory, the fact that animals get hurt or mistreated makes no difference either way as long as the greatest number of people benefit from it in the end.
Mosser, K. (2013). Understanding Philosophy. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education.
Singer, P. (1989). All animals are equal. In T. Regan & P. Singer (Eds.), Animal rights and human obligations (pp. 148-162). New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Retrieved from http://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/phil1200,Spr07/singer.pdf
Regan, T. (1985). The case for animal rights. In P. Singer (Ed.), In defense of animals (pp. 13-26). New York, NY: Basil Blackwell. Retrieved from http://www.animal-rights-library.com/texts-m/regan03.htm