Author Archives: Blake Mars

Why Animal Rights?

This week, as we continue our study of applied ethics, we examine arguments put forward for animal rights by two philosophers: Peter Singer and Tom Regan. Both of these philosophers are seeking a radical change in the way humans treat animals, yet their means of reaching this conclusion differs. Singer bases his argument on the principles of equality and the moral philosophy of utilitarianism, while Regan focuses on shared values possessed by animals and humans.

Singer, a controversial, Australian philosopher and author of several books and articles on animal rights, is concerned about the proper treatment of animals and refers to his position as “animal liberation” as opposed to “animal rights.” He centers his moral argument on the principle of equal consideration—that each person is entitled to equal consideration and respect. To satisfy this principle of equality, he uses Utilitarianism to explain that an individual’s capacity to suffer should entitle that individual to equal consideration. If a creature can suffer, then its suffering has to be considered in the utilitarian calculation of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.

Yet one might argue that there is a distinction between human suffering and animal suffering: human suffering is morally relevant precisely because it is human suffering. However, Singer argues that this attitude, which he labels as “speciesism,” is wrong because it goes against the principle of equal consideration. Humans and non-human animals should have their interests weighed equally when doing the moral calculus of right and wrong.

Regan, an American philosopher and author of several books on moral and social thought, lays out his argument in “The Case for Animal Rights.” He begins by claiming that each person, as an individual, has some distinctive and unique value, which he calls “inherent value.” This “inherent value” is not something earned, it is equal among all who have it, and it is required in order to explain why we hold certain other beliefs. Regan uses the condition of being a “subject of a life” to show whether or not something has inherent value. To be a subject of a life means that one is a “conscious creature having an individual welfare that has importance to us whatever our usefulness to others.” This “welfare” must matter to an individual and make a difference to that individual.

Since being a subject of a life means that one has inherent value, a subject of a life has rights to protect this value and not be harmed. Additionally, other subjects have a duty to respect these rights. Therefore, Regan believes humans have natural duties toward animals, and should treat them equally and not interfere with their normal life course.

I personally feel that the arguments put forward by Singer and Regan can be easily dismissed.  Regan’s notion of “inherent value” is invalid since it does not matter what a person does or who the person is, as long as he has inherent value, he should be treated like any other person. We do not need inherent value to explain why it is right to treat others with respect and dignity, or why it is wrong to mistreat animals. Likewise, Singer’s argument is based on utilitarianism, a moral theory notorious for its defectiveness at providing moral guidance. For people who reject utilitarianism, Singer’s argument has no appeal. The arguments for animal rights are concerned with animal treatment in a legal context. Since animals do not exist in our social context, it could also be argued that they have no place in our legal context. Instead of justifying legal protections for animals and discussing our legal relationship, it might be better to focus on our proper moral relationship with animals. What do you guys think?

Psychological Egoism-Rachels

Rachels’ “Egoism and Moral Skepticism” provides us with strong arguments in favor of psychological and ethical egoism, which he effectively refutes by highlighting their weaknesses. Before reading, I was naïve and therefore indifferent to these concepts of egoism; however, I now agree that psychological egoism is an invalid thesis.

Rachels defines psychological egoism as “the view that all men are selfish in everything that they do, that is, that the only motive from which anyone ever acts is self-interest” (Rachels). Contrary to ethical egoism, psychological egoism describes how we act but does not tell us how we ought to act. (Garrett)

He presents several arguments throughout the work in order to show why this idea is unjust. I believe his strongest claim is that  “Since so-called unselfish actions always produce a sense of self-satisfaction in the agent, and since that sense of satisfaction is a pleasant state of consciousness, it follows that the point of the action is really to achieve a pleasant state of consciousness, rather than to bring about any good for others” (Rachels). For instance, I, like many others, often behave unselfishly for mere self-satisfaction and the avoidance of guilt. When I pass a homeless person on the streets, I give some loose change and then feel good about myself instead of feeling guilty for ignoring the beggar and continuing to walk.

The problem with this situation, Rachels points out, is that it sounds as if I am described as an unselfish person since I find pleasure from helping others. The selfish person would not have been concerned for the homeless person in the first place. “Why should we think that merely because someone derives satisfaction from helping others this makes him selfish? Isn’t the unselfish man precisely the one who does derive satisfaction from helping others, while the selfish man does not?” (Rachels). Bishop Joseph Butler answered this question in his Sermon XI:

That all particular appetites and passions are towards external things themselves, distinct from the pleasure arising from them, is manifested from hence; that there could not be this pleasure, were it not for that prior suitableness between the object and the passion: there could be no enjoyment or delight from one thing more than another, from eating food more than from swallowing a stone, if there were not an affection or appetite to one thing more than another (Bishop).

In simpler terms, people do not decide they need to feel good and therefore find a way to help others in order to achieve that feeling of self-satisfaction. On the contrary, people help others for the sake of helping others and find the sense of satisfaction after the fact, according to Butler. Wanting to help others is unselfish, and therefore, the psychological egoist argument has a mistaken view of selfishness.

In closing, I stand by Rachels’ opposition to psychological egoism as it is entirely unjust. The theory contains numerous flaws and confounding statements including the failure to distinguish between self-interest and selfishness, as well as between self-interest and pleasure.

Works Cited

Bishop, Lloyd. In defense of altruism: inadequacies of Ayn Rand’s ethics and psychological egoism. New Orleans, LA: University Press of the South, 2000. Print.

Garrett, Aaron. “Joseph Butler’s Moral Philosophy.” Stanford University. Stanford University, 17 Oct. 2012. Web. 14 Sept. 2014. <>.

Rachels, James. “Egoism and Moral Skepticism.” The University of Morality (1971): 233-239. Blackboard. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.

Rand, Ayn. “A Defense of Ethical Egoism.” 79-85. Blackboard. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.