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.



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