In Tom Regan’s “The Case for Animal Rights”, he argues the rights theory is the most satisfactory moral theory to justify the goals of animal rights movements (p.393). In this paper, I will examine Regan’s argument and show the rights theory cannot lead to the conclusion that it is morally wrong for human to kill animals.
Regan begins with claiming all individuals who are the experiencing subjects of a life have inherent values. The inherent value is independent of the usefulness of the individual. Unlike the utilitarianism, this view in principle denies that we can justify good results by using evil means that violate individual rights. Treating others in ways that fail to show respect for the other’s independent value is to act immorally, to violate the individual’s right (p.393). Since we accept the fact that human who lack of intelligence, autonomy or reason has inherent value. To be rational, we have to also accept the view that animals like them has no less inherent value. All who has inherent value have it equally, whether they are human or animal (p.394). Therefore we have to recognize the equal inherent value of animals and their equal right to be treated with respect.
I agree with Regan both human and animal have the same inherit rights. However he is too hastily to equate these inherent rights with human rights. We must first examine what is the content of the inherent rights exactly, only then we can determine how human should treat animals morally.
According to the rules of nature, animals high up in the food chain have the rights to prey on animals low in the food chain. It would be absurd to condemn lions killing gazelles for food being immoral. It would be even more absurd to persecute the lions for committing murders. It would be equally absurd to prevent the lions from killing the gazelles or any other animals, doing so would definitely drive the lions into extinction. It is quite obvious that it is moral for the animals to kill other animals for their own good. Following the same rules of nature, it is moral for animal to honor special relationship within their own species, such as wolf packs. So it must be moral for human to take the welfare of other Homo sapiens more important than members of other species. Since human and animal share the same inherent rights, it is only moral to allow human kill animals as resources and allow human being speciesism.
In response to my objection, Regan may argue that I have confused positive rights with negative rights. My objection is based on human and lions have the same positive rights of killing other animals, but he is suggesting animals have negative rights in the form of a moral protection from harms, since every subject of life have the same inherent negative rights. The lions do not have moral capacity to fulfill their moral duty, so we cannot apply moral judgment on whether it is wrong for the lions to kill the gazelles. On the other hand, human possess rationality or moral autonomy, so it is wrong for human to violate our moral duty by harming the animals.
Regan’s response did not answer my objection at all. I was asking where the inherent rights come from and suggest a reasonable way to determine its scope. Regan merely repeat his conclusion without showing us how to derive the inherent rights equal to moral protection from harm. If human have inherent rights of being speciesism, then human has no moral obligation for not harming the animals. The human rights of infants and retarded can be justified by the inherent right of human speciesism, then the inherent rights of all experiencing subjects do not include protection from harm in all circumstances. Why can’t the inherent rights only give animals some protection that is less than what Regan has claimed? How about animals have inherent rights to survive as a species, so human can kill individual animal but we should not drive them into extinction? How about animal have inherent rights for not being harmed by human if there is no conflict of interest, so we can build animal factories to provide food supplies for us, but we cannot kill birds in the city unless they become environmental hazards? Regan gives no reason why we should draw the line of the inherent rights that animals enjoy the same as human rights.
In conclusion, Regan’s argument for the animal rights is invalid. Giving that all living beings share the same inherent rights, we cannot logically deduce this inherent rights equals to human rights that we are familiar with.