Tom Regan, Case for Animal Rights
1. THREE VIEWS ABOUT OUR TREATMENT OF ANIMALS THAT
2. Indirect duty view (e.g., anthropocentrism): We have no direct duties to
nonhumans, only duties to other humans regarding nonhumans
a. Regan thinks this is a highly implausible view: Torturing an animal
is not wrong simply (or mainly) because it upsets other humans, but
rather because it harms the animals;
b. Torturing animals wrongs the animals themselves.
3. Cruelty-kindness view: Our behavior toward animals is acceptable as long
as we are kind and not cruel to them
a. But having a kind motive or failing to be cruel is no guarantee of
b. For example:
i. The racist who is kind only to members of his own race
ii. The lack of cruelty on the part of those who experiment on
animals doesn't by itself show that their action are morally right
or even permissible
4. Utilitarian view (Singer):
a. (1) We should count animals' interests equally with identical human
b. (2) We should do those acts whose consequences maximize the
balance of interest satisfaction (e.g., pleasure) minus frustration (e.g.,
5. REGAN'S TWO OBJECTIONS TO UTILITARIANISM:
6. (1) Utilitarianism denies that individuals have value: it sees individuals
merely as replaceable receptacles of value (i.e., pleasure).
7. (2) For utilitarianism, any evil means can be justified (including one
that disrespects individuals by violating their rights) if the end is
sufficiently good (e.g., Killing Aunt Bee to help the orphans).
8. REGAN'S RIGHTS VIEW
9. 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
a. To determine if an act is right one must ask: Does it respect the
individuals involved? Does it avoid violating their rights?
10. Right acts are those that do not violate individual’s rights, that treat
individuals with respect, and that do not use individuals as a MERE
means to others ends
a. It is permissible to use others (as a means) as long as we do so with
their consent or with their ends in mind
b. It is not permissible to use other’s while ignoring their wishes or what
their ends are
11. All individual "experiencing subjects of a life" have inherent value
(have moral standing or intrinsic value, a type of value not reducible to
use/instrumental value for others)
a. Being an experiencing subject of a life is Regan's criterion of
b. Note!: Being an experiencing subject of a life is not the same as
simply being alive
c. 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
d. Regan (like Singer) is a “sentio-centrist” in terms of moral standing.
e. Some animals are experiencing subjects of a life and thus have moral
standing and inherent value for the same reasons that humans do
f. How does being an experiencing subject of a life show that one
possesses inherent value (moral standing)?
i. Because beings who care about their lives should not be treated
as if the value of their lives were simply to benefit others
12. All who have inherent value have it equally: Inherent value doesn't
come in degrees
a. We don't think a retarded person has less inherent value than a genius
b. Inherent value is something we possess simply in virtue of being
"experiencing subjects of a life"
c. Inherent value is an unearned, not an earned respect
i. It is not given to us; we have it, whether it is acknowledged or
ii. 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
iii. "Mother Teresa and the most unscrupulous car salesperson
have the same inherent value"
13. 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
a. 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)
14. Thus Regan's view handles his two objections to utilitarianism by
a. (1) acknowledging that individuals have value themselves, and
b. (2) absolutely prohibiting rights violations for the sake of achieving
i. 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
15. IMPLICATIONS OF REGAN'S RIGHTS VIEW
16. Regan thinks one can't limit the rights view to humans only, because
a. The basis for rights is being an experiencing subject of a life and
some animals are experiencing subjects of a life
b. Marginal Case Argument:
i. 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
ii. There are some psychologically sophisticated animals who are
more intelligent, autonomous, social, responsible, able to
communicate, etc. than are some humans
iii. Thus if we are going to include all humans as having rights
(and we should), then some animals will also have rights.
iv. 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
17. Rights view, unlike the utilitarian view (Singer), is absolutely
a. Utilitarians could allow using animals (or humans) in medical
research, if the benefits were sufficiently great.
b. The rights view categorically opposes and seeks to abolish animal
experimentation, animal agriculture, hunting, etc.
c. 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
18. POSSIBLE PROBLEMS WITH REGAN'S RIGHTS VIEW
19. Regan ignores (Cohen's suggestion) that one might have moral standing
without having rights (a special kind of moral standing).
a. Regan denies and Cohen believes that there can be inequality within
the community of those that have moral standing.
20. Can respectful use be harmful use?
a. 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)?
b. The difference between treating a being as a means and treating it
merely as a means.
21. Is Regan's view (like Singer’s) 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
Study questions on Regan and Animal Rights
1. What is the difference between a consequentialist moral theory like utilitarianism and a
rights view like Regan’s? Which factors do they consider when determining if an
action is right/wrong?
2. State, explain, and evaluate Tom Regan's two criticisms of utilitarianism.
3. What is Regan’s criterion of moral standing?
4. What does Regan mean by “being a subject of a life?” Is a tree a subject of a life for
5. What does Regan mean when he says all subjects of a life have "equal inherent value?"
Does one earn such value by one's behavior?
6. Do you think it makes sense for two beings to have different amounts of inherent value
7. What does it mean to treat a being as a means to one’s own ends? How is this different
from treating another as a MERE means to one’s own ends?
8. Can one treat an individual with respect and still use it in a harmful way?
9. Explain the “marginal case argument” and how it is used in debates about our treatment
10. Discuss the implications of Singer's utilitarianism and Regan's rights view on the
practices of factory farming, animal experimentation, and hunting. How might the two
disagree with each other? Which view (if either) gives greater protection to animals?
Which view (if either) is more reasonable?
11. How might an advocate of “environmental ethics”(specifically a biocentrist or
ecocentrist) criticize both Singer’s and Regan’s views on moral standing (namely,