Before we as a society can decide whether animals have rights or not, we need to keep an open mind. Evolution of life is at least 25 million years old, and from the beginning right to the present day humans have fought for the survival against other species and have evolved to such an extent that they have been taken as the most superior of all living beings. Both Cohen and Williams value human life. They feel if the betterment of humanity is wanted then use of animals has to be accepted. Animals like human beings do suffer but being a lower species they have a tendency to be used by humans. As superiority does not signify cruelty, therfore both the authors value animal life too and are against the misuse of animals. The critics against the use of animals argue about the “rights” of animals. To analyze this, one has to first correctly understand the use of the term “rights” and see how absurd they are on this issue.
What does the term “rights” mean? According to Cohen, “a right is a claim, or potential claim, that one party may exercise against another… To comprehend any genuine right fully, one must know who holds the right, against whom it is held, and to what it is a right” (865). Only those who have the capacity to make moral claims against one another can talk about defending rights. Human beings have rights because each one of them has consciously accepted the other’s rights and thus will always be self-legislative and morally autonomous. Applying this definition of rights to animals, one can understand why they have been denied rights. As Cohen believes, “animals lack the capacity for free moral judgment” (866).
They are incapable of exercising and responding to moral claims and can never recognize the possible conflicts between what is in their own interest and what is just. “Only in a community of beings capable of self restricting moral judgments can the concept of a right be correctly invoked” (Cohen: 866). From this strict and surely logical definition of rights, one can clearly see that a human, a species that has rights, is surely more valuable than animals. And when animals are used in research, for the betterment of human health, one does not violate their rights because they have none to violate.
Ingrid Newkirk, the co-director of PETA (People for the Ethnical Treatment of Animals) once made a remark – “When it comes to having a nervous system and the ability to feel pain, hunger and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy” (Williams: 63). This again comes down to comparing humans and animals with “equal consideration of interests” (Williams: 64) and rights. Williams has supported Cohen’s definition of rights by clearing what kind of rights do we mean exactly? “It’s not the right to vote. Not the right to a good education and not the right of a doggy not to be nutted at the vet’s” (64). It’s the rights or moral claims that humans can make and animals cannot, makes us superior to them.
And being superior it is logically reasonable to consider that human life is more valuable than a pig or rat’s life. If we treat both of them equally then we are forced to conclude “that neither humans nor rodents possess rights or that rodents possess all the rights that human possess” (Cohen: 867). “Refusing to recognize the moral differences among species is a sure path to calamity,” as Cohen continues (868). This calamity will be the use of humans in ways animals are being used and the 25 million years of evolution of human life and values will surely go to dust.
Some critics, the animal people, argue that if rights require being able to make moral claims, to grasp and apply laws, then many humans who are retarded, disabled and plainly lack the capacity to make them, must be without. In our society this is highly untrue, hence the claim encourages the animal people prove that animals, like the retarded, do indeed have rights and values equal to that of a human. In the words of Cohen – this argument “mistakenly treats an essential feature of humanity as though it were a screen for sorting humans. What humans retain when disabled, animals have never had” (866). Retarded humans are not excluded from the moral community and therefore still have rights that make them different from animals.
The moral community comprises of all humans and is for humans only. It cannot be used as a medium to compare human value of life with that of animals. Further “humans are of such a kind” (Cohen: 866) who might give their voluntary consent to be used as experimental subjects, which is well respected. But that’s impossible for animals as they are not superior enough to give their consent in the first place. It is a known fact that worth and value gain respect. So it can be inferred that humans have a greater worth or value than animals.
“Animal people” often compare the social relations of humans to that of animals trying to persuade others that both species have same value of life. They say that just like humans, animals nurse their young, communicate to each other, suffer pain and have preferences and desires, so animals are not entirely different from humans. It’s wrong to accept that. Cohen has correctly stated that all of these features contribute to species survival and in no way tells us about the inter community relationships of animals. They unlike humans don’t bother about the interest of others.
“Humans act immorally often enough, but only they never wolves or monkeys can discern, by applying some moral rule to the facts of a case, that a given act ought or ought not to be performed” (Cohen: 867). This shows that humans make moral laws that might conflict with their own interests but animals, as a community cannot do that. That’s another example of humans having a greater value of life as well as understanding than animals.
Cohen and Williams have shown how animals are and have been useful to us. Their use in medical research has resulted in a lot of benefits. The testing of cosmetics and drugs first on animals has prevented any possible harm to humans. Eradication of horrible diseases, reduction of pain and saving lives by improving quality of life are a few benefits Cohen has to mention. Apart from medicines animals are used as a source of food and clothing. Williams has correctly pointed out that it’s a way to feed the poor.
Many animals form the livelihood and are a source of income for few. If animals are not used such people might not survive. Humans due to their own selfish reason use animals even though the reason might not seem selfish at all. Both the authors value human life – their health, wants and desires. In order to fulfill these requirements of human life, it’s hard to stop animal usage.
Now that we understand what Cohen and Williams have to say about human life superceding so-called animal rights, they also mention about having obligations towards animals. As Cohen says “it does not follow from this [animals lacking rights], however, that we are morally free to do anything we please to animals. We have obligations that do not arise from claims against us based on rights… obligations come from the internal commitments made” and “arise from particular acts and circumstances”(866). Cohen to support his words gives the example of a doctor having obligations to his patients not because of the patients’ rights but due to internal commitments. Just like we have obligations to other human beings, we ought to treat animals in the same way and so animal usage has to be thought out carefully and as humanely as possible.
A lot has been done in these regards but still more has to be done and we humans, being far superior to the other inhabitants of this world, have to shoulder this responsibility. These obligations have nothing to do with animal rights but depend upon the individual. From Cohen’s saying one can find out that he values animal life too. But as he continues, “To treat animals humanely, however, is not to treat them as humans or as the holders of rights,” one can see that he cares more about human value of life.
As for Williams, she supports Cohen by citing examples where animals are being misused. Not misusing them can be one of our obligations. Killing animals for pleasure is out of the question. Williams tells the story of a young girl with cancer, who as her last wish wanted to go to Alaska and kill a Kodiak bear. This is what should be stopped. Instead of going around taking out processions for animal rights, animal people should be more concerned in stopping animal misuse. Even in medicine animals should be used only when the experimental results through their use, seems fruitful. There are many misleading experiments going on. Drugs that may be effective on animals might not work for humans and vice versa.
Williams has correctly pointed out, that successes in transplant operations were only possible when doctors operated on humans directly and left animals out. Williams also has given numerous examples of drugs that have been delayed as a result of animal testing. The tobacco industry was able to deny the link between smoking and lung cancer by using dogs in gas chambers. This is ridiculous; if the dogs didn’t develop cancer it doesn’t mean that humans will also not develop it. Another known fact is that animals cannot predict side effects of many drugs in humans. So it is our obligation, as Williams infers, not doing anything we please, to animals.
In the end, one can observe that the enormous increase in the number of humans has led to a new moral status, a moral status created by humans themselves. Both the authors have this new moral status in their minds when they talk about this topic. They both value human life, and probably animal life too but they like many others they prefer to honor humans first, and then animals. The only hope is the further advancement of science and the moral obligation of mankind to prevent animal misuse. It’s the duty of mankind to maintain restrain over self and avoid from making a mockery of nature.
Courtney from Study Moose
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