Warren Animal Rights Theory

Mary Anne Warren wrote a critique of Tom Regan’s argument that the basic moral rights of at least some non-human animals are in no way inferior to our own. Warren argues that Regan’s case for strong animals right position is unpersuasive and that this position entails consequences, which a reasonable person cannot accept. For the strong animal rights position Regan argues that normal, mature mammals are not only sentient but have other mental capacities. He continues by saying that animals are subject-of-a-life, and that all subject-of-a-life have inherent value. All things that have inherent value are equal and that no inherent value is greater than another. This leads to the respect principle, which forbids us to treat beings who have inherent value as mere receptacles. So, people cannot morally exploit anything that has inherent value, so anything that is subject-of-a-life cannot morally be exploited. But inherent value is vaguely defined. Inherent value is not actually defined by what it is, but instead it has been defined by what it is not. Because of this it is difficult to separate which beings have inherent value and which do not. The sharp line theory suggest that there is a place where a line can be drawn between what has inherent value and what does not, but because of the obscurity of the definition of inherent value it is difficult to find an appropriate place to draw this line.

Warren argues that the strong animal rights position is flawed, and I agree. Warren then adjusts the strong animal rights theory and calls it the weak animal rights theory. The main difference being that the weak animal rights theory allows the rights of animals of different kinds to vary in strength. I like this better because it fits more with my personal feelings that I am the top of the food chain and those below me will be eaten.


Refutation Against Animal Rights

Mary Anne Warren refutes Tom Regan’s essay on animal rights “The case for Animal Rights” through her essay “Difficulties with the Strong Animal Rights Position.”  Warren clearly states in the beginning of her synopsis of what made Regan’s argument for Animal rights so weak by laying out 3 stages of Regan’s argument.  Warren starts put by mentioning “Moral, mature mammals are not only sentient but have mental capacities, as well.  These include the capacities for belief, emotion, memory, desires…” (Warren 164)  Warren basically states that these animals have the ability to feel pain and pleasure and we have the ability to make things better or worse off for them in the long run.  Warren next says that Regan’s second stage of his argument opposes utilitarianism because he states “Individuals are like mere receptacles, in that harm to one individual may be justified by the production of a greater net benefit to other individuals” (Warren 164) Warren points out that Regan says that we should reject the perfectionist theory and conclude that all subjects-of-a-life have equal inherent value.   Warren refutes Regan’s final stage of his argument by stating that “Rights are not absolute and can be overridden in certain circumstances” (Warren 164) and that the term inherent value is very unclear and does more harm than good to Regan’s point.

Warren defines Inherent value as “The bridge between the plausible claim that all is normal, mature mammals, humans and otherwise claim to have basic moral rights of the same strength.” (Warren 165) The idea of inherent value is highly obscure and it is ill-suited for the role to defend animal rights because it cannot attach to anything other than an individual, species or eco-system.  Warren states that wherever we draw the sharp line between same inherent value and same basic moral rights, we have and no inherent value and no moral rights seems to be implausible because there are no degrees in inherent value.   Basically she says that it is up to the gods to draw the line between who or what gets moral rights and inherent value.

Warren gives many examples about what we do not know or trivialities that refute the idea of Inherent Value.  “It is still unclear what we say about insects, spiders, octopi, and other invertible animals which have sensory organs but whose minds out alien to us.” (Warren 166)  Warren gives many more examples like how mice are seen as trivial to human children and cannot really be compared given the example of the rodent’s vs human children invading and eating what is in the kitchen of a house.  Warren says that we are justified to killing rodents because they threaten our well-being.  Warren wraps up her refutation against Regan’s argument by stating that human rights are stronger than animals rights because people are at least sometimes capable of being moved to action or inaction by the force of reasoned argument and we also listen to reason which gives more possibility for cooperation and nonviolent resolution.

Works Cited

Warren, Mary Anne, “Difficulties With the Strong Animal Rights Position”, Between the Species (No. 4, Fall 1987). Nedlands, Australia.

A Better Animal Rights Theory

In the essay “Difficulties with the Strong Animal Rights Position,” Mary Anne Warren gives her analysis and criticism of Tom Regan’s work: “The Case for Animal Rights.”  She starts by summarizing Regan’s three main points, and then goes on to refute them with many examples and scenarios.  The first point that Regan makes, is that “normal, mature mammals are not only sentient but have other mental capacities…” such as the ability to be harmed and benefited (164).  This basically means that some animals are very sentient, but also have emotion, memories and other capabilities that allow them to suffer and feel pleasure.  Next, Regan goes on to say that all these sentient animals, that he calls “subjects-of-a-life”, have an inherent value and thus have many of the same moral rights as humans. Lastly, he uses this inherent value point to demonstrate why “subject-of-a-life” animals have the same moral rights as humans.

From the reading, it appears that Warren’s main point of contention has to do with Regan’s term “inherent value.” She finds the definition of this phrase to be very unclear and sees it as “… a mysterious non-natural property which we must take faith on”(165).  Here, Warren questions how a being is determined to have inherent value if it is completely independent of the value that some other being places on it.  This is quite perplexing and I definitely agree with Warren’s argument against the use of this term.  Additionally, from Warren’s point of view, it seems rather impossible to distinguish between those sentient beings that have the same inherent value as humans, and those beings that do not.  Regan provides us with very loose rules as to what constitutes a sentient being deserving of inherent value, and tells us to use the benefit of the doubt rule.  In all it seems that Warren has valid points of contention against Regan’s use of the Strong Animal Rights Theory, and thus provides her own animal rights theory as a better alternative.

The theory that Warren postulates is called the Weak Animal Rights Theory.  As opposed to the Strong Animal Rights Theory (SART), which states that certain sentient animals should have the same rights as humans in all circumstances (no matter what), the Weak Animal Rights Theory (WART) takes a more practical approach.  Not only does it give better guidelines for distinguishing which animals are deserving of certain rights, it also allows for some of these rights to broken when necessary.  One such example that Warren gave was the hunting of animals to counter overpopulation.  Another example was the killing of rodents that eat crops and spread diseases.  All the examples she gives are relatively reasonable and show that WART is much more practical than SART.

To conclude, I would like to point out that Regan’s view is rather deontological, in that animals with inherent value must be given the same rights as humans.  He says that no matter what, even in situations where the animals are causing harm to humans, we must treat them with the same moral rights as a human.  On the other hand, Warren’s view seems Utilitarian because there is no strict universal morals that must be followed, and because the rights given to an animal are determined by the benefits received by humans as a whole.  Do you think these are accurate characterizations of the two views?


Works Cited

Warren, Mary Anne, “Difficulties With the Strong Animal Rights Position”, Between the Species (No. 4, Fall 1987). Nedlands, Australia.


Animal Rights- Inherent Value

In Regan’s book ‘The Case for Animal Rights’ he argues that all ‘normal mammals over a year of age have the same basic moral rights’ than humans. This basically means that the same ethical standards that apply to humans should apply to animals as well. Even though I feel animals and in particular mammals do deserve to have a level of ethical standards, putting them on same level as humans in my opinion is wrong. Regan uses the term inherent value to express why he feels this way, inherent value in the case of animal ethics can be described as the value an animal possesses in its own right, as an end-in-itself, the opposite of this is instrumental value which means that an animal only has a value to other animals such as human beings.

As the article says, Regan’s theory requires us to divide all living things into two categories. Firstly, those that have inherent value have the same basic rights that humans have and secondly those do not have inherent value have no moral right. Personally, I disagree quite strongly with this notion, I feel that all animals, including humans have a combination of inherent value and instrumental value and that this combination is largely dependent on where the animals lies on the food chain. I say food chain because I strongly disagree with using animals for other reasons such as for fur and carpets as I feel it is immoral to gain utility from animals for decorative purposes. For example, a human would have close to 100% inherent value and 0% instrumental value, as humans are top of the food chain whereas an animal such as a cow would have a more balanced ratio between inherent and instrumental value as their meat is widely eaten by humans and it is morally accepted by humans to do so.

In Regan’s argument he places a lot of importance on the distinction of mammals and other species making the argument that animals are primarily the most important type of animal. In addition he also says that the mammals have to be ‘normal’ and over one year old, I find all three of his statements slightly unjust. Firstly, what makes a mammal more special than a reptile or bird? Secondly, why does the animal have to be of a certain age to be classified to have a certain level of inherent value? I don’t think there should be any correlation between age and inherent value especially if a theory states that there can be no middle ground in regards to inherent value. However one aspect of Regan’s argument is that non living entities can have inherent values, largely because many of these non sentient objects such as rocks and rivers have very important roles in an ecosystems, they can be habitats or can serve as protection for animals, making them crucial to the survival of the animals itself.

All in all, I agree with some aspects Regan’s explanation of animal’s rights however the main part of his theory that I do not agree with is the idea that a mammal either has or does not have inherited value. I feel that value differs from animal to animal and just because an animal has inherited value it shouldn’t mean that they are allowed to have the same rights as humans.



Warren, M. A. (1978). Difficulties with the strong animals rights positions. Nedlands, Austrailia: Warren.







Moral Consistency: Animal Rights and Abortion

In “Adventures in Moral Consistency: How to Develop an Abortion Ethic through an Animal Rights Framework,” Abbate criticizes Francione’s claim that the principles in animal rights and those in the abortion discussion differ in moral predicaments. She proceeds to outline the argument by defining moral status, sentient beings, animal and fetus rights, and then offers responses by Singer and Regan.

Abbate’s main argument is that a “fully developed animal rights theory, which stems from Francione’s account of animal rights, entails a broad set of ethical considerations that have moral implications for the abortion discussion” (Abbate 18). Abbate defines moral status as a characteristic synonymous with the moral considerations attributed to animals in order to maintain moral consistency: “Sentience, i.e. the capacity to experience pain and suffering” (Abbate 3). This is the only characteristic that would establish a fetus having moral status since animal rights activists conclude moral status of non-human animals as well.

Abbate continues to analyze Francione’s philosophy by pointing out that his belief in rights for sentient beings should also extend to fetuses that are considered sentient. In her article, she reports that the general scientific community agrees that fetuses cannot experience pain or pleasure until the 20th week of gestation. However, Francione attributes sentience to lobsters and fish even though they are missing the neocortex, an imperative brain structure that allows conscious awareness of pain. His defense is that these animals display pain behavior in response to “noxious stimuli” and that their functioning brains have “basic neurological structures” although rudimentary (Abbate 7). Therefore, this defense should appropriately be extended to fetuses that are at 8 weeks of gestation because at this point there is neurological evidence that they have a functioning brain and a central nervous system.

One key term that Abbate continuously emphasized throughout the article was the need for moral consistency. Applying basic moral principles to the topic of animal rights makes it more critical for the “doer” or individual to understand the consequences of his/her opinions on the abortion discussion. The “morally significant act or omission is not the sexual intercourse, but rather, the morally significant omission is the choice to not abort the fetus in the first eight weeks gestation (Abbate 16). If one is to support animal rights in the sense that the individual wants to protect the interests of the animal because of its sentience, then the same moral value should be placed on protecting the interests of a sentient fetus.

However, the responses by Singer and Regan are similar in that they are considered theories of moral individualism, meaning that the theories look at the moral consideration of the doer. Singer contends that if you are sentient, then you are also morally considerable for your actions. Regan also disputes that if you are a “subject-of-a-life,” then you are also granted certain rights. Cora Diamond, an analytic and moral philosopher, dismisses moral individualism by claiming that “to argue as Singer and Regan do, is not to give a defence of animals; it is to attack significance in human life” (Diamond 8). She argues that moral individualism places too much emphasis on the difference between animals and humans instead of focusing on the developing relationship between the two.


Works Cited

Abbate, Cheryl E. “Adventures in Moral Consistency: How to Develop an Abortion Ethic through an Animal Rights Framework.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (2014): 1-20.

Diamond, Cora. “Eating meat and eating people.” Philosophy 53.206 (1978): 465-479.

Alternative Solutions: What Warren Didn’t Consider

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.


Works Cited

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.

Strong Animal Position vs Weak Animal Position

Mary Anne Warren’s analysis of Tom Regan’s strong animal rights position revealed many inherent problems within the theory that proves to be obscure or unpersuasive. However, although I am in full consensus of the many unacceptable consequences that the strong animal rights position could lead to, the empirical notions central to the weak animal rights position seems to stand on precarious grounds as many of the tenets that Warren proposes appear to be also self conflicted.

Warren’s rejection of the validity of inherent value fundamentally exposes Regan’s arguments to skepticism. In his review, Regan tells us what inherent value isn’t, but never gave us an account of what it is exactly. Summarized by Warren, “inherent value appears as a mysterious non-natural property which we must take on faith”. We learn, from Regan’s theories, that the inherent value of a being is completely independent of the value oneself or others place on it. If this is the case, then we find that all sentient beings would have inherent value as they are all subjects-of-a-life that have existences which could go better or worse. The argument made by Warren that inherent value’s “subjecthood” should come in degrees also makes more logical sense than Regan’s which draws a sharp line to distinguish animals that are subjects-of-a-life from those that are not. As it is difficult to determine the extent of which animals feel pain, emotions, desires and memories, it is consequently difficult to determine the mental sophistication that would qualify them as subjects-of-a-life. Also, we may claim that certain creatures lack certain senses due to the absence of organs but in many cases, animals use different organs to perform the same task. The weak animal rights theory, in this case, differentiates the rights of animals with varying strengths in accordance to its mental sophistication which also relates to the strength of its moral rights. It certainly triumphs the benefit of the doubt principle which assumes animals, that may or may not be subject-of-a-life, as if they are.

There are indeed many more examples Warren gives that delineate the strength and credibility of the weak animal position theory, however, inconsistencies do exist. The one justification that Warren considers to have moral relevance in explaining the superiority of human rights over animal rights is that people are at least sometimes capable of being moved to action or inaction by the force of reasoned argument. She further explains that this capacity to “listen to reason” relies upon something like a human language. But how can we be so sure that animals don’t have a unique language? How do we know that animals are not using brain waves, or a higher and more intelligent method, to communicate? Dolphins communicate via high pitched clicking sounds and inform each other of their intentions. Chimpanzees use hand gestures much like humans’ sign language. Therefore, how do we know whether they are reasoning when we do not understand animal language in the first place? A mother whale could repeatedly breach and flap her fins to send signals of danger to a baby whale; the baby whale upon receiving these messages would react and possibly flee away from danger. Here we see an animal being moved to action by the force of a somewhat ‘reasoned argument’. Although the sophistication of animal communication cannot reach that of humans, it nevertheless demonstrates the fact that actions that could result from communication.

Warren’s theory also includes the concept that “no sentient being should be killed without good reason”. What qualifies as good reason? Dogs are now widely accepted as a home pet, or an animal that symbolizes loyalty. According to Warren’s principles, dogs would qualify as subject-of-a-life because they have memory, intentional action, a sense of the future and some degree of self-awareness. Thus, it is a sentient being that should not be killed without good reason. Yet, dog meat is very popular in many parts of the world with many people endorsing the killing of dogs for its meat. And so would human desire for good taste qualify as good reason? If so, then Warren’s theory would be self – conflicted.

Though problems exist in both theories, I am definitely a supporter of the weak animal rights position. In the contemporary society we live in, the weak animal position theory yields more flexible results with the existing set of beliefs and norms as opposed to the forceful set of guidelines that the strong animal position enforces.



Painless Killing for a Utilitarian

The question we are considering is if utilitarianism dubs painless killing to be morally impermissible. The simple answer is that no, there is no clear condemnation of painless killing by utilitarian standards. As we know, utilitarianism focuses on two things: the equal value of everyone’s happiness, and the goal of maximizing happiness and minimizing pain. This means that there are any number of extenuating circumstances that would cause a utilitarian to label painless killing as morally permissible or impermissible; for example, she would say it was wrong if the individual she killed had a family to look out for. On the other hand, she would say it was right if killing the individual would benefit many people, for example, killing a serial murderer. However, in the most stripped down example of an individual with virtually no identity, one with no family or friends, and one who does not intend to perform any particularly heroic or heinous actions in the future, utilitarianism provides no reason that killing this individual is wrong. This system of ethics places no particular value on life, independent of its ties to joy and pain. So once these emotions are removed from consideration, the life is worth little to nothing.

The decision of whether or not this act of killing is impermissible depends on the killer. If the killer would suffer grief, guilt, or any emotional distress after performing this action, then it is, by utilitarian standards, morally impermissible. Killing this individual would benefit no one, and hurt the killer. Of course, this consideration is rather illogical, as no one would go through with it under these circumstances. However, on the other hand, if the killer is pathologically deviant, and derives some joy out of killing, then utilitarianism views it as morally permissible, if not obligatory. So for example, suppose I am some strange, sociopathic individual who finds killing for sport (and no other reason) to be enjoyable. If I am presented with a child, one who is orphaned and alone, with no earthly connections and no significant past, utilitarianism states that it is morally permissible for me to kill this child.

It is clear then that, in this specific circumstance, regarding an individual with no connections and no considerable future, utilitarianism states that painlessly killing an individual is morally permissible.

The Dilemma of Painless Killing

For most people, the act of killing is wrong because it inflicts pain on the animal or person being killed. However, when the idea of the painless killing of an animal or a person is introduced, people are split between the two.

In the last couple of years, there has been a fight against animal cruelty and animal testing. When scientists experiment on animals, people see this as unethical as many complications can occur from the products’ reaction to the animal. The main argument is that animal testing can cause harm to animals. The substances tested on animals can cause symptoms that can result in serious issues and even death. However, in the case of painless deaths, is it morally wrong to kill using this method? Using methods to kill that do not inflict pain on the animal does not inflict any type of pain or discomfort for the animal. The killing of the animal does not harm any one and actually benefits those who need the meat to eat and live.

While others may argue that it takes away from the animal’s opportunity to live, most likely nothing will be taken away from the animal. The daily lives of animals typically consist of just eating and sleeping. This is nothing interesting enough to continue living for. When animals simply eat and sleep all day, everyday, they have nothing to lose. Painless killing removes the pain that could have been administered to the animal in order to kill it, and by using this method, the animal does not suffer and the people who receive the meat benefit. From a utilitarian’s point of view, since people are being benefitted and the animal is not harmed, the killing of the animal using painless methods is morally right. It brings about the greatest amount of good and happiness.

Since the animal is killed using painless measures, it is not morally wrong to kill the animal to use it for good rather than prolonging a life with no other purpose.

Painless killling is…

When it comes to painless killing, one must first considered whether the person dying knows of their impending death. If the person knows that they are about to die, then they would probably prefer not to suffer from it. From a utilitarian point of view, it would also be better for the person not to suffer in death, thereby lowering the amount of people feeling pain. Of course, one could also look at this in the perspective of the killer. If the killer is about to murder someone who knows that it is coming, they may care whether or not they inflict pain on the person in doing so. Of course, if it is like assisted suicide, then the killer would probably feel better about their part in the act if they make it painless. In that case, not only would the killer feel less pain but the person requesting the assisted suicide would then get a painless killing, so in a utilitarian point of view it would be morally correct to commit a painless murder.

Things change when the person dying does not know that they are about to die. If they die, they more likely than not did not want that, so of course it would be better to at least take the suffering out of the act. Of course, you are then depriving them of the experience of death. Though who really wants to have a slow death just so that they would know what dying feels like before you are gone? To each their own. From a utilitarian point of view, it ultimately seems like they best option would be to keep the killing painless so that the killer would feel less suffering from any guilt and so that the person dying has no physical pain, no matter how they may feel about dying internally.