In “Difficulties with the Strong Animal Rights Position,” Mary Anne Warren offers a criticism of Tom Regan’s “The Case for Animal Rights.” The first major issue that Warren takes up is Regan’s “inherent value.” In the original article, Regan addresses the question of what determines if an organism has rights by offering his concept of inherent value. He states that “to say we have such [inherent] value is to say that we are something more than, something different from, mere receptacles” (Regan 185). Regan proposed the concept of this inherent value in opposition to the view that utilitarianism gives in response to the same question. Utilitarianism states that a being has rights if it has interests that can be satisfied or frustrated (Regan 184). It views both humans and non-human animals as, Regan states, “receptacles” for happiness or pain.While Warren does not necessarily condone the utilitarian solution, she poses many problems with Regan’s inherent value solution.
The first issue she points out is that Regan does not give a clear definition of what inherent value is. He only defines it in terms of utilitarianism— in terms of what it is not. She then goes on to ask, if the inherent value exists independently of the value of the being’s experiences, “why does the fact that it has certain sorts of experiences constitute evidence that it has inherent value?” (Warren 165). She asks why sentience cannot serve as the standard for inherent value and, by extension, rights. Warren then questions the assumed connection between inherent value and rights, saying that some things exist that seem valuable, but do not logically deserve rights (for example, mountains). Finally, Warren offers this thought: either inherent value is based on a natural trait, and that trait remains unidentified; or inherent value is not based on a natural trait, and there is no reason to believe that it is an appropriate measure for moral rights at all (Warren 165).
Warren gives us valid reason to doubt Regan’s inherent value theory. However, she does not address the other existing solutions. The first was offered by Kant. He proposed that non-human animals do not have inherent value or rights. Rather, “we have indirect duties to animals” (Gruen). These duties derive from the implications that our actions towards animals have for our actions towards humans. Kant stated “he must practice kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men” (Gruen). While this view certainly has its flaws, they are entirely distinct from the flaws of both the inherent value and the utilitarian solutions.
There is one final solution that I believe to be the most satisfactory and logical. This is offered by C. Korsgard. She, like Kant, acknowledges an important distinction between humans and animals. However, like Regan, she believes that both have rights. She offers the concept of “natural capacities.” These natural capacities are shared by both rational, sentient humans as well as all non-human animals. She states that “what we demand, when we demand … recognition, is that our natural concerns—the objects of our natural desires and interests and affections—be accorded the status of values” that others are morally obligated to respect (Gruen). Korsgard clarifies the origin of these values, saying “many of those natural concerns—the desire to avoid pain is an obvious example—spring from our animal nature, not from our rational nature,” meaning of course that all beings that share these animalistic concerns have the right to have those concerns respected (Gruen). This view seems to be the most logical offered. It avoids the confusion of the vague “inherent value” theory, the apparent worthlessness of life itself that utilitarianism demands, and the disregard for nonhuman animals of the Kantian view. What the natural capacities view gives us is a theory that demands we respect non-human animals, not doing with them just as we please, while maintaining the view that the rights of humans are not entirely equal to the rights of non-rational animals. This appears to be the most logical answer to the question of just what determines if non-human organisms have rights.
Gruen, Lori, “The Moral Status of Animals”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2014/entries/moral-animal/>.
Regan, Tom. “The Case for Animal Rights”. Berkeley: U of California, 1983. Print.
Warren, Mary Anne, “Difficulties With the Strong Animal Rights Position”, Between the Species (No. 4, Fall 1987). Nedlands, Australia.