Category Archives: Applied Ethics

Makes Sense to the Non Animal Rights Activist : “The Case for Animal Rights”

First and foremost I commend Regan on his piece “The Case for Animal Rights”.  Coming from one who is not an animal rights activist, I found that his argument was very compelling. Although he didn’t change my mind about animal rights; however he did open my eyes to unjust that is done when people talk about animal right. He explains why things haven’t changed and why the problems aren’t being recognized. In this text, Regan dissects other positions that one shouldn’t use as arguments for animal rights, then he gives one that he believes is suitable.

Contractarianism is one of the main positions he shuts down. Contractarianism is the idea that mortality consist of rules that one voluntarily agree to follow, as one would do when they sign a “contact”.  These set of rules are the rules that people collectively abide by and enforce. People who accept “contracts” are directly covered and thus are able provide protection for others that can’t sign the contracts themselves. Regan explains how, for example, parents who sign “contracts “have indirect duties to young children, since they obviously can’t understand the rules and regulation that the “contract” holds.  However, the case is made where the duty is only based on the sentimental interest of others. Since animals are similar to children in the case that they too can’t understand the rules of the contract, they must have someone who cares about them have indirect duties towards them. The argument is then made that people don’t have any duty towards one’s animal but instead to the owner of that animal.  Thus, one only has a duty not to hurt any animal, if they have an owner. If this animal doesn’t have an owner then one doesn’t have a duty towards that animal.  The indirect duty view, doesn’t rationally help the case for animal rights.

Similar, Regan tries to solve his problem from the Utilitarian view.  Utilitarianism is  the idea that everyone’s interest count in a situation to find the best outcome that will bring about the most satisfaction ( happiness) for everyone affected in that situation . This may sound all good since utilitarianism counts everyone interest; however, the problem is that utilitarianism doesn’t have room for equal inherent value or worth. The only thing that matter are the satisfactions that come from an individual not who the person is themselves.  For instance he uses the example of someone killing there Aunt because the results that can happen with her money after she dies are more beneficial, then having her alive. According, to the utilitarian philosophy, killing her is moral if her death will result in more satisfaction than having her alive. However, non-utilitarian would find this idea morally callous. Regan, then concludes with the argument that “a good end doesn’t justify evil means” (185); thus, utilities fails.

Regan believes that inherent value is what justifies animal rights. Inherent values are the equal rights that all individuals have. Inherent values entail the idea of being treated with respect, and not being reduced or used as resources.  Humans’ ae experiencing subjects of life. With that, Regan argues, that animals should also be seen as experiencing subjects of life just like humans; thus, having inherent value. Although some may say that animals don’t read, build things, and etc., some humans don’t express these abilities either. These humans aren’t seen with any less value the next, thus animals shouldn’t be seen with any less value either. Animals need to be treated with respect just like humans.

As stated early, I may not be an animal rights activist but I do think Regan’s argument was compelling. He found claims within outer philosophical views that were wring and justified why he believes why animal rights should be taken into consideration. He didn’t change my views on animal rights but he did open my eyes to see the reason to why people are so adamant about animal rights. What are you options about his argument?


Regan, T. (1986). A case for animal rights. In M.W. Fox & L.D. Mickley (Eds.), Advances in animal welfare science 1986/87 (pp. 179-189). Washington, DC: The Humane Society of the United States.


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?

The Animal Liberation Movement: Peter Singer

           Singer’s argument for animal rights rests on the general principle of equality.  He does not mean an egalitarian society in which intellect, moral, or physical abilities are equated, but an ideal of equality in how we should treat one another.  He concedes that a demand for equality based on the actual equality of all human beings would be unjustifiable.  In accordance with Bentham, Singer presents justification for equality based on a being’s capacity for suffering. 

Following this point, there can be no moral justification for not taking a being’s suffering into consideration.  In addition, “suffering is the only defensible boundary of concern for the interests of others.”  Suffering is a definite commonality whereas if one bases their consideration on intellect or rationality, they would be founding their views in an arbitrary way.  From this, Singer clarifies his argument on equality by stating that animals have an equal consideration of interests, not in rights (right to vote, etc.).

Using a utilitarian perspective, minimizing suffering as a whole is the morally correct course of action. And although the ability to suffer is the only justifiable examined factor when taking into consideration the interests of animals, when considering the taking of life, other factors come into play.  Certain factors now become viable such as being self-aware, the ability of abstract thought, planning for the future, and complex acts of communication.  Singer exemplifies this when you have to choose between saving the life of a normal human being or a mentally defective one.  Although most people would choose the normal human being, but when both are suffering, the choice of which one to help is less clear.  Therefore, in the circumstances of death, human beings are generally saved over other animals because of inherent characteristics, not merely the fact that they are members of our own species.

Singer goes on in his essay to discuss the current accomplishments of the animal rights movement and its future goals.  I would like to raise a few points for discussion.  Could Singer’s argument be strengthened if a defended from a Deontological/Kantian perspective?  Certain animals could most definitely be considered rational beings (especially when weighted against infantile humans, elderly, those with disabilities), and so would using them as “mere means” be unjustifiable?  What is the current status of animal rights in the western world, have these goals proposed by Singer been met?  Lastly, based on utilitarian argument imposed by Singer, suppose a dog was about to bite a young child.  In order to stop this you must harm the dog.  If by harming the dog and protecting the child you inflict greater suffering than bite of the dog, are you morally incorrect to do so?

Abortion: For and Against

The dichotomy between Noonan and Thomson:

Noonan is a strong proponent of the belief that abortion is morally incorrect in almost every single circumstance. From the essay, we see that Noonan assumes that the fetus is in fact a human being (or should be treated so), and that there is only reason for abortion if there is some outstanding circumstance. For example, he cites cancer as a factor that threatens the life of both the mother and child (fetus), and therefore accepts abortion. He spends the bulk of his paper trying to prove what those against abortion promote – that a fetus is a human being.

Through his examples, I felt like Noonan creates a loose argument against abortion. He says if there is no reason to harm a human being, then that act of harming is morally wrong. He then continues to say that if the act is abortion, then the act is harming a human being. The only way he qualifies this is because he believes that a human fetus is a human being. Due to this, he believes abortions are an act of harm to human being and have no reason, as long as factors such as cancer are involved.  Since he states both harming a human for no reason is morally wrong that that abortion without a factor like cancer is an act of harming a human being, he indicates that abortion without a factor like cancer is morally wrong. He cites a fetus’ lack of viability as a reason to disallow abortion (Noonan 353). Based on his assumption that dependence is not ended by viability, the fetus is still dependent on someone’s care in order to exist, even three to five years after birth.

Thomson, on the other hand, is in favor of allowing abortion. In her work, she accepts that for the sake of argumentation, the human fetus can be deemed as a human being. Her argument, however, challenges the ability for one to come to the conclusion that all cases of abortion are morally wrong, only stemming from the premise that the fetus is a human being.

She stages a simple argument that reads: a fetus is a human and every human has the right to live, therefore, a fetus has the right to live. A mother has the right to decide what happens to her body, but the fetus’ right to live outweighs a mother’s right to decide what happens to her body – therefore, an abortion cannot occur, as it would kill a human who has the right to live (Thomson 48). Thomson demonstrates that this argument is unsound through the famous violinist experiment, in which one is plugged into a famous violinist to keep him alive. She argues that we are not required to do this, even if the violinist dies. The same way, a fetus is “plugged into” a mother, and if one does not desire the baby, it is not immoral to unplug it.

I thought the best part of the Thomson article was her defintion of the right to life: “The right to life consists not in the right not to be killed, but rather in the right not be killed unjustly” (Thomson 57). Under this definition, abortion is morally permissible, especially in cases where the mother’s life or well being in threatened (such as in cases of rape).

An interesting piece of abortion ethics lies in the arguments about whether a fetus that will knowingly be born with physical and mental birth defects should be allowed to be aborted. Arguments against the abortion of disabled fetus’ follow as such: disability as a reason for abortion implies that disabled people or their lives are less worthwhile than those who are not disabled. Another could say that most disabled people say that they would much rather be alive that be killed in the womb, and that allowing abortion based on disability disallows for the individual concerned (assuming the fetus is a human being with brain activity and thought) to make a choice. What to you guys think about these arguments? Does anyone have a strong position?

Works Cited:

Noonan Jr., John T. “Abortion is Morally Wrong.” Famine, Affluence, and Morality. N.p. 353-357. Print.

Thomson, Judith Jarvis. A Defense of Abortion. Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 1. (Autumn 1971), pp. 47-66.

“Disability in the Foetus.” BBC News. BBC. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.

So Why is Abortion Wrong?

If you paid any attention to the title of this piece, you would have known what the essay was going to be about before even reading the paper. In “Abortion is Morally Wrong,” John T. Noonan Jr. defends the idea that an entity becomes a person at the time of conception and that abortion is morally wrong. The only exception to his belief is if the mother’s life is at stake (Noonan Jr. 353) Throughout his writing, Noonan Jr. presents oppositions from the opposing stance that abortion is morally right, and then refutes it. He attempts to answer the question: “How do you determine the humanity of a being?” He introduces several opposing viewpoints and promptly refutes them. The two that will be primarily focused on are the ideas of the dependence on the mother and the unborn child’s lack of experience.

The first opposition that he presents is the idea that the lack of experience makes the child less human. He rejects the claim that “a being who has had experiences, has lived and suffered, who possesses memories, is more human than one who has not” (Noonan Jr. 354). The opposition claims that because the child has never yet experienced anything (i.e. happiness, sadness, pain, etc.), it is not qualified to be a human. He rejects this idea by emphasizing “the embryo is responsive to touch after eight weeks and at least at that point is experiencing” (Noonan Jr. 354). Even if humanity were determined by experience, babies experience things while in the womb even before birth. It was found that unborn children could differentiate touch from pain in the womb at several weeks into pregnancy and maybe even before then (Ertelt). Therefore, the idea that the unborn child does not experience anything while in the womb is inaccurate. However, the question is: Is the level of experience an accurate way of measuring how human a person is? Would older people be more human than young people? Older adults have been through and experienced more than small toddlers. So according to the objection, the older adults would be more human than the toddlers. The age of the person has no correlation with how human a person is. Therefore, the unborn child in the mother’s womb should not be considered less human than an adult on the basis that experience determines humanity.

The second opposing view that he presents is the idea that because the child is dependent on the mother during early pregnancy, the child is not a “human.” The objection explains, “this dependence is made on the basis of denying recognition to [the unborn child’s] humanity” (Noonan Jr. 353). However, Noonan Jr. asserts that this distinction is not fully valid because “artificial incubation may make the fetus viable at any time” (Noonan Jr. 353). Nowadays, there is more technology to provide a chance for premature babies to survive without fully developing in the mother’s womb. He mainly argues against this opposition by asserting that the dependency of the child does not end after birth. He claims that “ the fetus is still absolutely dependent on someone care in order to continue existence” (Noonan Jr. 354). After the birth of the child, do the parents just let the child grow on its own without any assistance? Of course not, that would be child neglect; if this were the case, no one would be alive today. The notion that a child’s dependency on the mother to live determines how human it is not valid. Babies and even small children are completely dependent on others to live. Since they cannot fend for themselves, they rely on others entirely.

Noonan Jr. compelling argument against abortion provides great retribution for the opposition’s arguments. An unborn child is no less human than a person who has had more experience or is “less dependent” on the mother. The child has the potential to grow up and become someone but abortion takes that away in a matter of minutes. Despite others attempts to define humanity, an unborn child is human regardless simply because it has the potential to become an experienced and independent human being.


Works Cited

Ertelt, Steven. “Study: Unborn Babies Can Differentiate Touch, Pain in Womb.” N.p., 09 Sept. 2011. Web. 08 Nov. 2014.

Noonan Jr., John T. “Abortion is Morally Wrong.” Famine, Affluence, and Morality. N.p. 353-357. Print.

Not Anti-Life; Pro-Choice

Thomson starts by stating a common opposition to abortion that she has a problem with. It is the idea that anti-abortionists believe that a fetus is a human from the moment of conception. She not only does not believe that this is a strong argument, but she also claims that it is too slippery of a slope for even a pro-abortionist to easily disagree with. For Thomson to start her defense of abortion by stating a common oppositional view and not just disagreeing with it, but taking an argument against it a little further and actually considering that it is not a simple right or wrong idea at face value was smart. It makes her continued argument against her point of a fetus being a person making abortion morally impermissible a stronger argument.  She continues to make this argument even stronger by yielding to this questionable premise that fetuses are people from the moment of conception and then continues to defend abortion even with this common oppositional point accepted. Like in Colorado and North Dakota where personhood rights have consistently been voted against for fetuses since the moment of fertilization, they get that those against abortions are mostly just “extremists interfering in our personal and private decisions” (Basset 1). So many anti abortionists just attempt to force their beliefs, usually religious ones that they use to direct their morality, onto those considering abortion. It takes away the already difficult and personal sense of the decision the parent has to make. But that is another discussion for later.

The example that Thomson uses to compare abortion to someone being kidnapped to save a famous violinist from a failed kidney ailment because that person is the only one that has this musician’s blood type is not good. Although I understand the point she is getting at, in comparing a kidnapping to getting pregnant by rape, and then being forced to share a blood source, your body, etc. with a fetus (or in the example, with another person).  It is not a very strong point though because this is a very hypothetical and extreme case to compare carrying a child unintentionally or undesirably to.

Considering how strong her introduction argument was, I also see her argument against the weak claim of abortion being impermissible even if continuing the pregnancy may shorten the mother’s life as an even weaker argument in and of itself. Thomson even says himself that “Such cases are nowadays very rare, and many opponents of abortion do not accept this extreme view” (Thomson 50). If she knows that even those who disagree with the argument he is trying to make do not often use this argument to support their claims, then there is no point in even disagreeing with it as a part of this big defense of abortion. It is an obtuse idea to cling to considering how it is a rarely applicable circumstance for abortions nowadays.

It is smart of Thomson to later consider the arguments of what the third person would think in these situations of abortion, and how that goes into the morals behind the practice. I think this makes the entire defense of abortion stronger to critique the outsider’s perspective. Of course, in the ideal world, what anyone else thinks should not matter. Whether or not an abortion is morally right or wrong should between the mother of the child and her unborn child, or the mother of the child and the child’s father. Of course, it is not always that simple, but that is because that would just be in the ideal world. Once again of course Thomson uses an extremely hypothetical situation in her argument surround the third party’s perspective. The situation of a mother living in an extremely small house with a child is a little better of a hypothetical than the previous one he tried to use, though I believe that once again sticking to facts would have been good enough for the argument. She was already doing a good job of defending self-defense and one’s own life preservation in a possibly life threatening pregnancy before bringing in this hypothetical situation.

Thomson’s argument that no one has the right to something of yours, even if it is all they need to survive, is a great argument. Though her examples are hypothetical, they are right on in this sense. A child has no right to life if the mother does not give it that right. Though it would be nice if they both could live, if it is a choice of one or the other (like in the case of a life threatening birth) then the child has no right to take the mother’s life to live if the mother does not want to give up her life. One life should always be considered equally as important as any other. Everyone who is living has a right to his or her life. This can once again bring us back to the argument of when a fetus should be considered a life form.

The next major question, stemming from this right to life discussion and what a right to life ultimately means, is the question of whether abortion is unjust killing. Thomson covers both the situations of a pregnancy due to rape and a pregnancy due to consensual sex. Both are situations in which a woman does not directly welcome nor anticipate pregnancy. What needs to be considered is whether it is still fair for the mother to not want to share her body with this child, even if she knew the risk of pregnancy when having sex. This is a debate in all cases where the pregnancy was due to voluntary circumstances. In cases of rape, it is already concluded in Thomson’s essay that the child then has no right to the mother’s body because the person who impregnated her was given no right to even have sex with her, therefore it is not unjust in killing the child who had no right to the life it was given in the first place. This entire discussion has no clean ending though, because the little details of every situation, the idea that the woman who has an unwanted pregnancy could have refrained from sex all together if that we the case, etc. all will have a part in whether an abortion is unjust killing in that particular situation.

Thomson’s defense of abortion then continues when she shares that we should keep a tight rein on what is right or wrong when it comes to abortion. She believes arguments get weak when people start to consider what one ought to do and letting that ultimately mean that is what is right to do. I agree that what one should do and what is morally correct to do can be different things depending on the case, and that is ok. What one should do is also so different depending on the person and their own ideas of what is morally correct. It is not very cut-and-dry.

I admire where Thomson critiques her own argument from the perspective of anti-abortionists. It is true; that her argument is not as strong because she never said that abortion is always permissible, just that it is not always impermissible. That it is always permissible is a stronger claim though of course harder and probably nearly impossible to defend 100%. Thomson’s concluding sentence though makes all of the critiques of her argument she previously made weaker, in stating that “A very early abortion is surely not the killing of a person, and so is not dealt with by anything I have said here” (Thomson 66). By making her previous critiques of her own argument weaker with this statement, she is ultimately making her entire defense of abortion here stronger. This was a smart literary and argumentative move.


Work Cited:

Bassett, Laura. Colorado and North Dakota Voters Reject Fetal Personhood Measures. Huffington Post. 2014

Thomson, Judith Jarvis. A Defense of Abortion. Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 1. (Autumn 1971), pp. 47-66.

Noonan vs. Thomson: Both Sides of Abortion Analyzed

            This week as we enter into applied ethics we are discussing the highly controversial topic of abortion. We are reading both sides of the debate: Noonan’s piece, titled “Abortion is Morally Wrong”, and Thomson’s piece titled, “A Defense of Abortion.” Through both pieces, it is possible to see arguments on both sides of the abortion issue and truly think about which side has more positive ideals. Typically, the anti-abortion believer will argue that abortion is morally wrong since it is killing a living person, as conception and the creation of the zygote is the creation of a person. In order to parallel the two sides, Thomson argues her points from a position in which she agrees, for the purpose of making an equal argument, that the formation of the zygote is the formation of a person.

            In Noonan’s piece, he argues that abortion is morally wrong. First, he touches on the point that there are difficulties with the distinction of viability, the main way that lawmakers use to determine abortion’s legality. Lawmakers say that “Before an age of some many months, the fetus is not viable, that is, it cannot be removed from the mother’s womb and live apart from her,” (Noonan 353). He argues that this is not a valid argument for allowing abortion before a certain time period as in reality, “dependence is not ended by viability. The fetus is still absolutely dependent on someone’s care in order to continue existence; a child of one or three or even five years of age is absolutely dependent on another’s care for existence,” (Noonan 354). His next argument against abortion lies on the principle of deciding how to determine if humanity can be dependent on experience. Noonan argues that “the zygote is certainly alive and responding to its environment,” (354). He also argues that rare cases of aphasia in adults do not erase humanity, so not having memory does not make one not a human. Overall, he argues that abortion is morally wrong and not something to be done in society.

            On the other side, Thomson argues that abortion, in some cases, is a valid, morally permissible action. She begins by stating that she will make all of her arguments based on the view that the formation of the zygote at conception is the beginning of humanity for the unborn baby. She continues on to give one main example in her piece. The first states that you are a person who is lying in bed next to a famous, talented violinist who will not survive unless you lay in bed “plugged in” to him so that he can use your kidneys to filter his blood. You did not agree to have yourself plugged into this man and it was done in a forceful manner. Thomson argues that you are doing a nice thing for the person if you remain plugged in but you are not required to do so, and you are not wrong to unplug yourself even if it means that the person may die. Through this example, you can transfer the idea to abortion in that you are a woman who has a baby plugged into you. If you do not want the baby to be plugged into you, it is not wrong to unplug the baby.

            In American society, court cases such as Roe v. Wade uphold the right to abortion upon request up until the point when the fetus is viable. This case overturned a state law banning abortion for the unborn child in the first trimester and said it could be partially restricted in the second and third trimesters, except in the case when it would harm the mother to give birth to the child. Although abortion is legal under federal law, states have the ability to restrict abortions, and many states have either fully, or partially, restricted abortion.

            Through all of these different lenses, it is very difficult to make a decision on how one stands in respect to abortion. I personally tend to stand more on the pro-choice side of the debate with Thomson and many of the US states. I feel that, like being stuck to a famous violinist, having a child that one does not want and cannot properly care for is something that no person should have to do, and it is better off for the future of the child and the parents if abortions are legal, therefore, I believe that abortions are morally right until the child is viable.


Kliff, Sarah. “The Landscape of Abortion Bans, in One Must-see Map.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 07 Nov. 2014.

McBride, Alex. “Roe v Wade (1973).” PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2014.

Noonan, Joseph T., Jr. Abortion Is Morally Wrong. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Thomson, Judith J. A Defense of Abortion. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.