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.


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