Author Archives: Michael Mazursky

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.


Nozick’s Experience Machine and The Matrix

In Nozick’s book Anarchy, State, and Utopia, he wrote about a thought experiment he called: The Experience Machine, in order to refute ethical hedonism.  This position states that what is ethical or moral is that which brings the self the most pleasure possible.  He uses the example of what he calls a “Pleasure Machine” to show why this point of view is invalid, and tries to prove that we live our lives because “we want to do certain things, and not just have the experience of doing them” (Nozick 43).  This thought experiment is basically the same concept that I studied in my metaphysics class last year, but instead we called it the “brain in a vat” experiment.  It brings up the question that if a brain in submerged in some fluid in a jar, and is hooked up to electrodes that stimulate experiences and send impulses to the brain, then to what extent are these experiences real?  Nozick’s experiment instead address the question of what most people desire more out of their life: pleasurable “fake” experiences, or authentic and actual life.  Nozick, in a sense, refutes the claim of many Utilitarians by saying that life is not all about getting the most pleasure or utility out of something, but rather about being able to actually live one’s life and experience everything for oneself.  I agree with Nozick’s claims and will give an example of how this has been applied in modern culture.

The example I think that best matches this thought experiment, in modern cinema, is that of The Matrix film trilogy.  The whole concept of the movie trilogy is that the world everyone perceives to be real is actually just one big pleasure/experience machine.  Neo, the protagonist, comes to realize this reality when Morpheus shows him the truth.  Although the real world is desolate and ugly in this movie, “there are things we value in life that we’d be losing out on if we plugged into an experience machine (Pryor 40).” James Pryor, a professor of philosophy at NYU, sees the matrix as a prime example of Nozick’s pleasure machine, and thinks “there are things we lose out on even if the operators’ intentions are benevolent and we plug in of our own free choice (Pryor 40).”  The point that Pryor makes here, simply put, is that even though the matrix is much more pleasurable and happier on the surface, the actual value and utility we get out of living our actual lives outside of this machine world is much greater.  This is the whole point that Nozick tries to convey throughout.

In all, it seems clear that Nozick’s argument is rather compelling.  The distinction between the maximizing of pleasure through synthetic vices and actually living one’s own life are immense and impactful.  The questions I pose to you all are as follows: Do you think that this argument successfully refutes the main argument of utilitarianism (that we must get the most value and pleasure out of everything we do)?  What are some other examples of this thought experiment being used in society (I know there are many more movies with this concept)? What other ways can one refute hedonism and some forms of Utilitarianism?


Nozick, Robert. “The Experience Machine.” Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic, 1974. 42-45. Print.

Grau, Christopher. “What’s So Bad About Living in the Matrix By James Pryor.” Philosophers Explore The Matrix. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 40-52. Print.