Tom Regan, Case for Animal Rights

Three views about our treatment of animals that Regan rejects:

Regan's two objections to utilitarianism:

Regan's Rights View

  • Non-consequentialist (non-utilitarian): It is not the consequences of our acts that make them right or wrong (as utilitarianism claims), but the kind of acts
    • To determine if an act is right one must ask: Does it respect the individuals involved? Does it avoid violating their rights?
    • Right acts are those that treat individuals with respect and do not use individuals as a MERE means to others ends.
  • All individual "experiencing subjects of a life" have inherent value (have moral standing, intrinsic value, a type of value not reducible to use/instrumental value for others)
    • Being an experiencing subject of a life is Regan's criterion of moral standing.)
    • Note!: Being an experiencing subject of a life is not the same as simply being alive
    • Experiencing subject of a life: a conscious creature having a welfare that has importance to it; wants and prefers things, believes and feels things, recalls and expects things, has ends of its own, can be satisfied or frustrated; all these make a difference to the quality of the life as lived/experienced.
    • Some animals are experiencing subjects of a life and thus have moral standing and inherent value for the same reasons that humans do
    • How does being an experiencing subject of a life show that one possesses inherent value (moral standing)? Because beings who care about their lives should not be treated as if the value of their lives were simply to benefit others.
  • All who have inherent value have it equally (inherent value doesn't come in degrees-we don't think a retarded person has less inherent value than a genius)
    • Inherent value is something we possess simply in virtue of being "experiencing subjects of a life"
    • Inherent value is an unearned, not an earned respect
      • It is not given to us; we have it, whether it is acknowledged or not
      • Inherent value doesn't depend on race, sex, religion, nationality, talents, skills, intelligence, personality, being loved or admired, despised or loathed, useful or useless to society (or on species)
      • "Mother Teresa and the most unscrupulous car salesperson have the same inherent value"
  • For Regan, having inherent value = possessing rights = it is wrong to treat an individual with inherent value as a mere resource or thing or instrument that exists for the sake of others' benefits
    • We act wrongly when we violate individual's rights by failing to respect their independent value and treat them as a mere means to our ends (as if they had purely instrumental value)
  • Thus Regan's view handles his two objections to utilitarianism by (1) acknowledging that individuals have value themselves and (2) absolutely prohibiting rights violations for the sake of achieving social goods
    • For example, killing Aunt Bea to benefit charities is wrong because it violates her right not to be treated as a mere means to the ends of others
  • Regan thinks one can't limit the rights view to humans only, because
    • The basis for rights is being an experiencing subject of a life and some animals are experiencing subjects of a life
    • Marginal Case Argument:
      • Any reason one comes up with to limit rights to humans only will invariably and implausibly leave some humans (marginal cases like severely retarded humans) without rights
      • There are some psychologically sophisticated animals who are more intelligent, autonomous, social, responsible, able to communicate, etc. than are some humans
      • Thus if we are going to include all humans as having rights (and we should), then some animals will also have rights.
      • Thus, for whatever reason it is wrong to factory farm, hunt, and experiment on severely retarded humans also shows it is wrong to do these things to psychologically-sophisticated animals.
  • Implications of Regan's Rights View
    • Rights view, unlike the utilitarian view (Singer), is absolutely prohibitionist
      • Utilitarians could allow using animals (or humans) in medical research, if the benefits were sufficiently great.
      • The rights view categorically opposes and seeks to abolish animal experimentation, animal agriculture, hunting, etc.
      • Tidying up these institutions (by providing larger cages for animals, etc.) is not sufficient, because they treat animals as mere means to human ends which violates their rights and thus these practices should be abolished
  • Possible problems with Regan's Rights View
    • Regan ignores Cohen's suggestion that one might have moral standing without having rights (a special kind of moral standing).
      • Regan denies and Cohen believes that there can be inequality within the community of those that have moral standing.
    • Can respectful use be harmful use? Can't one be genuinely concerned with the welfare of animals for their own sake (and thus acknowledge that they have moral standing) and still use them for humans means (while acknowledging that their value is not totally reducible to their utility to us)?
      • The difference between treating a being as a means and treating it merely as a means.
    • Is Regan's view too narrow in it's focus only on subjects of a life having inherent value (subjects of a life are a tiny fraction of living beings)?