Do you think animals have Rights? The author makes a case against such an argument. Is he wrong?



IT HAS LATELY BECOME a growing fashion to extend the concept of rights from human beings to animals, and to assert that since animals have the full rights of humans, it is therefore impermissible—i.e., that no man has the right—to kill or eat them.

There are, of course, many difficulties with this position, including arriving at some criterion of which animals or living beings to include in the sphere of rights and which to leave out. (There are not many theorists, for example, who would go so far as Albert Schweitzer and deny the right of anyone to step on a cockroach. And, if the theory were extended further from conscious living beings to all living beings, such as bacteria or plants, the human race would rather quickly die out.)

But the fundamental flaw in the theory of animal rights is more basic and far-reaching.1 For the assertion of human rights is not properly a simple emotive one; individuals possess rights not because we “feel” that they should, but because of a rational inquiry into the nature of man and the universe. In short, man has rights because they are natural rights. They are grounded in the nature of man: the individual man’s capacity for conscious choice, the necessity for him to use his mind and energy to adopt goals and values, to find out about the world, to pursue his ends in order to survive and prosper, his capacity and need to communicate and interact with other human beings and to participate in the division of labor. In short, man is a rational and social animal. No other animals or beings possess this ability to reason, to make conscious choices, to transform their environment in order to prosper, or to collaborate consciously in society and the division of labor.

Thus, while natural rights, as we have been emphasizing, are absolute, there is one sense in which they are relative: they are relative to the species man. A rights-ethic for mankind is precisely that: for all men, regardless of race, creed, color or sex, but for the species man alone.

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"When all has been said that can be said, and all has been done that can be done, there will be poetry";-) -- Issodhos