This week, we examine the works of Peter Singer and Tom Regan, both of which focus on animal rights. Singer’s argument is formed through a utilitarian view, while Regan’s is Kantian. Although different, both arguments presented logical justifications for animal rights and had me wavering between my beliefs on the topic. Unfortunately, I found a couple of flaws with each argument and because of this, my stance on animal rights remains the same.
In the “The Animal Liberation Movement,” Peter Singer explains that animals deserve equal consideration of interests, which means that they deserve the same care to their well-being as humans. Essentially, it is immoral to use an animal in such a way that generates any kind of torture or suffering. This idea stems from the utilitarian view that our goal of life is to maximize happiness and minimize pain. To prove why we should give animals equal consideration of interests, Singers asserts that “the capacity for suffering and enjoyment is a prerequisite for having interests at all”(8).
One issue that I had with Singer’s argument was that as a supporter of utilitarianism, he failed to acknowledge one of Mill’s major points; the distinction between higher and lower pleasures. In utilitarianism there does exist a hierarchy of values, and Singer should have acknowledged this. The next issue that I have with Singer’s argument is his position on equal consideration. If a cat is attacking a child for example, Singer says that we should allow the cat to attack the child if stopping the attack would impose more pain on the cat than the cat’s attack on the child. In my opinion, it would be reasonable to cause more pain on the cat to halt the attack.
In “The Case for Animal Rights,” Tom Regan takes a Kantian approach and believes that like humans, animals should be treated as ends-in-themselves. His position is that any being that is experiencing “subject of a life,” or one who cares about his or her welfare and does not feel as if the purpose of life is to serve for somebody, possesses an inherent value. An inherent value is an unearned respect that every living being has equally. Regan argues that because animals have an inherent value, they shouldn’t be used in order to benefit human lives.
When I had first read Regan’s article, I was almost swayed by his idea of the inherent value, but then later dismissed it. Regan’s “inherent value,” is an arbitrary concept that he created in order to justify the equality of all sentient beings. Although I disagree with this idea, I do believe that there is an intrinsic value that each species possess, making me an advocate of speciesism. This “life value,” is based on our perception of the species. For example, I believe that a dog is more valuable than a cow, not because of their capacities, for they both feelings and preferences, but because they are perceived differently by humans. We value dogs higher because recognize them as more compassionate and loving beings.
Although I do not agree with the positions of Singer and Regan, I do believe animals deserve more consideration, but relative to their “life value.” Many towns in the United States, have an unlawful ban on pit bulls. My father’s best friend is a huge animal rights supporter and is fighting for the pit bulls, comparing the ban to a human genocide. I don’t believe humans should share equal rights with animals, but in certain situations they definitely deserve similar considerations.
Regan, Tom. The Case for Animal Rights. Berkeley: U of California, 1983. Print.
Singer, Peter. The Animal Liberation Movement: Its Philosophy, Its Achievements, and Its Future. Nottingham, England: Old Hammond, 1986. Print.