The claim that animals have 'rights' was first put forward by the Australian philosopher Peter Singer in the 1970s and has been the subject of heated and emotional debates ever since. Often the same organisations that campaign on environmental issues (e.g. Greenpeace) are also concerned for the welfare of animals: both sets of concerns derive from a commitment to the value of Nature and the Earth. The question of animal rights might well come up in a debate on biodiversity, and is one with so many political and social implications that it is also worth having in its own right. This debate is about the ethical principles at issue; the separate debates on biodiversity, vegetarianism, zoos, blood sports, and animal experimentation deal with more of the concrete details.
Since the notion of rights was developed, society has slowly moved to include more and more groups under the protection of those rights. It seems absurd now to suggest that women, the poor, and people who are not Caucasian should not have rights. Some argue that it is equally absurd to exclude animals. Will we someday regard the status quo as equally unethical as the time of slavery and female oppression? Or do rights only extend as far as the human race? Can we treat animals in a more ethical fashion without giving them rights? What would change if we did give animals rights?
A note on strategy: many harms can be identified by the proposition in this debate. We frequently harm animals when we eat meat, wear leather or fur, engage in battery/factory farming, engage in horseracing, scientific testing, hunting, trapping, and culling or keep animals in zoos, circuses and rodeos. We even harm our own pets when we put them down, refuse to provide expensive medical treatment, over or under feed them, neglect to pay them attention, keep them in small enclosures, keep them in our handbags or cars or force them to perform in shows, wear clothes etc. We need to protect animals with rights. The proposition will have to make some decisions as to which of these activities they want to protect animals against. They need also to decide which rights they will grant animals. Will it be all rights that human beings have? Will it be only the right to life? Gary Francione argues that the only right animals need is the right not to be considered property.
The opposition does not have to argue that we can do whatever we want to animals. They may argue that we have only indirect duties to animals or that we should still avoid cruelty to animals but should not give them rights.
Sentience is the property of being conscious. Sentience brings with it the ability to experience. There is a massive difference in the way that we treat sentient and non-sentient beings instinctively. We see nothing wrong with forming relationships with one’s pets but we tend to deem people with emotional relationships to objects mentally ill. Here we are talking about something more than sentimentality but rather the kind of relationship in which one is concerned with the other party’s emotional wellbeing. We even feel concerned about the wellbeing of sentient beings which whom we do not have a personal connection. For example we may feel upset when we see a dog run over on the road. This would be a very difficult reaction to how we might feel if we see an object crushed by a car. We feel moral outrage at the clubbing of seals.
The instinctive way which we differentiate between these two categories relates to the type of value they have. Whilst objects have value because of how they affect us - e.g. they are useful or remind us of a good time or person – we believe that animals have intrinsic value.
This means that a sentient being must never be treated as a means rather than an end in and of itself. Animals are sentient. Therefore, animals must not be treated as a means to an end but as intrinsically valuable.
First off, you are appealing to instincts which not everyone has. People who work on farms are happy to slaughter animals. A lot of people do not own pets simply because they do not feel any affection towards animals and care more for material objects. Many people do not care about the clubbing of seals. It is human beings of course who perform these clubbing, murder sharks, poach etc. Furthermore, it is irrational that people care about their pets because cows are equally as sentient as animals yet people are happy to eat veal and battery farmed beef and clearly do not care about the cow.
People treat pets as property. They buy and sell them, put them down when they contract illnesses that are too expensive to treat, give them away when they move houses etc. These are things that they certainly wouldn’t do to human beings. If you want to argue according to what humans do instinctively then we instinctively value humans more than animals and are happy to eat and kill animals.
Furthermore, we do not think that using a descriptive claim- what humans feel instinctively- means that you can then make a prescriptive claim – that all sentient beings deserve equal consideration.
In many ways we treat other human beings as only extrinsically valuable. Neo-Malthusians believe we should allow the poor to die of hunger to ensure that the current population does not suffer from the scarcity that arises from overpopulation. Many wars have involved killing lots of people to achieve political aims. Therefore, we often treat humans as extrinsically valuable.
Just as racism is wrongful discrimination against beings of a different race and sexism is wrongful discrimination against a being of a different gender, speciesism is wrongful discrimination against a being of a different species. Wrongful discrimination occurs when there is no other reason for the discrimination except the mere fact that the being is of the race, sex, or species that they are. For example, if an employer refuses to employ a black woman over a white woman because she has an inferior qualification this is justified discrimination whereas if he refuses to employ the black woman simply because she is black then this is wrongful discrimination. Human beings are speciesist towards animals because we sacrifice their most important needs for our trivial desires: their life for our enjoyment of a burger.
You might think that we are allowed to have special relationships to people that are similar to us but there is a difference between special relationships and being active cruel and discriminatory. Our evolutionary instinct to protect our own species may not be ethically correct in contemporary society.
Similarly, we ought not to 'put down' animals who are too expensive to care for. We do not allow human beings to kill off their children when they experience financial difficulty because we believe that human beings value their lives. It would be justifiable to kill off something that has no interest in living, such as a plant, but since we believe that animals do have an interest in living it would be speciesist to kill off a puppy simply because it is not human. We know that society believes animals have an interest in living sometimes because there is outcry when baby seals are clubbed or when elephants are poached for their ivory. Yet at other times we are happy to eat animal flesh and wear leather. This is a contradictory stance. We ought to be consistent in our views and to condemn speciesists.
Refusing animals rights is speciesist. Speciesism is wrong. Therefore, it is wrong to deny animals rights.
We agree that speciesism is wrong but we do not think that refusing animals rights is speciesist because there are relevant moral differences between animals and humans. And even if refusing animal rights is speciism, there is nothing wrong with speciesism in the first place. It is natural to value the lives of one's own species more than those of another species because we are programmed that way by evolution. We are expected to care more about our own families than about strangers and similarly to value the lives of our own species more than those of animals. It is only natural and right that if we had to choose between a human baby and a dog being killed we should choose the dog.
It is true that animals and human beings are different. It is also true that men are different from women and children from adults. Equality does not require beings to be identical. It is true that whilst many people argue women should have the right to abortion, no one argues the same for men because men are unable to have an abortion. It is similarly true that whilst most people believe all human beings have a right to vote, no one argues that animals deserve a right to vote – even those who support animal rights.
Equality does not mean that beings all deserve the exact same treatment. It means rather that we consider equally the equal interests of animals and humans. If we deem amount A to be the maximum amount of suffering a person be allowed to endure, then that should apply equally to an animal, though humans and animals may suffer different amounts under different circumstances.
The principle of equality advocates equal consideration, so it still allows for different treatment and different rights. Equality is a prescriptive rather than a descriptive concept. What’s important is that beings should ONLY be treated differently where there is a morally relevant difference between them. For example, we can justifiably deny dogs the right to vote because there is a relevant difference in intelligence between dogs and humans. However, there is no justification for battery-farming chickens who have a capacity to suffer. There is evidence that they experience fear, pain and discomfort. Although chickens may be less intelligent and unable to speak , these differences are not morally relevant to whether or not they should be placed in these conditions.
We ought to consider animals equally to the way we consider humans. If we were to do so we would give animals rights. We ought therefore to give animals rights.
Equality requires that two beings are actually equal on some fundamental level. Human beings have certain essential similarities that make them equal. These do not stretch to animals. Human beings are able to distinguish right from wrong while animals have no notion of ethics. We are thus able to consider what kind of a society we want to live in and we are affected when we feel that there is social degradation. Animals, however, do not have this sense. We have fundamental dignity which animals do not. This is clear in the fact that animals do not experience shame or embarrassment, desire respect, or have a notion of self. Furthermore, human beings can consider their future and have particular desires about how they want their life to play out. These are different for every individual. This is why we are concerned with choice and protecting individualism and religion. Animals on the other hand are concerned only with immediate survival. They have only instincts, not individual desires and wants.
For these reasons, we can't consider animals to be equally morally considerable. As for the propositions standard of relevance for the criteria which distinguish animals from humans in any given case, we would argue that the fundamental individuality and humanity of our species is relevant in every case because it makes animal life fundamentally less valuable.
We have already noted that beings do not need to be similar in order to be equally morally considerable. Assuming but not conceding that this is false, we will prove that animals are in fact incredibly similar to human beings, so much so that we should grant them rights.
First of all, animals have an equal capacity to experience pain. While we are unable to know exactly what other humans or animals are experiencing, we can make inference from what we observe. According to Peter Singer: “Nearly all the signs that lead us to infer pain in other humans can be seen in other species...The behavioural signs include writhing, facial contortions, moaning, yelping or other forms of calling, attempts to avoid the source of pain, appearance of fear at the prospect of its repetition, and so on”.
In addition we know that animals have nervous systems very like ours, which respond physiologically as ours do when the animal is in a circumstance in which we would feel pain—an initial rise of blood pressure, dilated pupils, perspiration, an increased pulse rate, and, if the stimulus continues, a fall in blood pressure. Although human beings have a more developed cerebral cortex than other animals, this part of the brain is concerned with thinking functions rather than basic impulses, emotions, and feelings. These impulses, emotions, and feelings are located in the diencephalon, which is well developed in many other species of animals, especially mammals and birds.” Animals therefore have the capacity for physical and emotional suffering, and so should be granted rights.
 Singer, Peter. "All Animals are Equal." Ethics for Everyday. (Benatar, D Ed.) McGraw Hill: New York. 2002
Even if animals are able categorize images in photographs and learn sign language, they are still phenomenally less intelligent than human beings. They will never study philosophy or perform brain surgery or even invent a wheel. Furthermore, intelligence does not prove the ability to self-actualise. Mourning others does not prove that animals value their own lives. Perhaps it implies that animals enjoy company but whether they consider the value of their companion's life and their future potential is questionable. Without the ability to value one's own life, life itself ceases to be intrinsically valuable.
The farming of animals does involve death but it is difficult to prove that death is intrinsically a harmful thing. Pain is certainly a harm for the living but animals are farmed are killed very quickly and they are stunned beforehand. Animals on farms do not know that they will be killed so there is no emotional harm caused by the anticipation of death.
There is no evidence that the painless killing of animals should carry any moral weight.
Babies and individuals with learning disabilities may lack intelligence, a sense of justice and the ability to conceive of their future. We ensure that babies and the learning disabled are protected by rights and therefore these factors cannot be criteria by which to exclude a being from the rights system. Therefore, even if animals are not as advanced as human beings they should be protected by rights. An inability to know what's going on might make being experimented on etc even more frightening and damaging for an animal that it may be for a human being.
We do not analyse human beings on a case by case basis but rather by what distinguishes human beings as a whole, as a species. Infants have the potential to become rational and autonomous etc. The profoundly retarded represent flawed human beings. Retardation is not a human characteristic just as being 3-legged is not a characteristic of a dog though there are both retarded humans and 3-legged dogs.
We have always been superior to animals. Just as a lion can kill antelope and a frog can kill insects, so too human beings have struggled their way to the top of the food chain. Why then can we not exercise the power we have earned? Animals exercise their power and we should do the same. It is our natural obligation to do so.
The reason we have always killed animals is because we need them. We need meat to be healthy and we need to test medicines on animals to protect our own race. We use animals to further our own race. This too is surely a natural obligation.
We are morally responsible creatures and we can survive perfectly well without being cruel to animals. Animals are different because they need to hunt to survive and are not morally responsible. The interests they satisfy by being cruel to other animals (namely the need to eat) are momentous whereas the human need to wear a fur coat or have a tasty burger instead of a vegetarian pasta dish is trivial. We even use animals for entertainment, something that by definition is unnecessary.
It makes no sense to give animals rights because they cannot makes decisions about what is right and wrong and will not try to treat us in an ethical manner in return. Why make them a moral agent by giving them rights?
There is a different between being morally responsible and being morally considerable. Human beings are both. Moral responsibility implies a duty and therefore a capability to act in an ethical manner. Animals can not of course be morally responsible as they do not have the intellectual capacity to ascertain what is right and wrong, only instincts as to how to survive. We cannot expect animals to be morally responsible but this does not mean that human beings do not have a duty to be morally responsible. It would be ideal for all beings to act in an ethical manner but only humans are capable of considering ethics and therefore we are the only morally responsible beings. Moral considerability refers to whether or not a being deserves to be treated in an ethical manner. There is a burden on the proposition to show why moral considerability relies on being morally responsible. Profoundly retarded human beings and babies are unable to be morally responsible and yet we consider them to be morally considerable.
Philosophers such as Immanuel Kant argue that we only have indirect duties towards animals. This means that we may not treat animals in such a manner that our actions are in conflict with our duties towards human beings. A human has no duty towards a dog not to kick it but a human has a duty towards the dog's owner not to damage his property. Pigs and cows are not loved by any human being so we cause no harm when we kill and eat them. Though the farmer may have owned the cow before, the beef becomes our possession when we purchase it. Wild animals are not owned by any human being so we may do to them what we wish.
Some people argue that cruelty towards animals can lead to cruelty towards humans but there is no evidence that people who work in slaughterhouses are more violent towards other people. In fact, there seems little connection at all between how people treat animals and humans. A slave driver may adore and pamper his dog but beat and kill his slaves.
If we have no direct duties to animals how can we grant them legal protection in the form of rights? The law should only prevent us harming animals when that clearly harms other people. For example, by killing a dog we infringe another person's human right to property.
We clearly have direct duties to animals if we condemn the clubbing of baby seals and like activities. Furthermore, it is not enough simply to state what duties we do and don't have. There needs to be a reason why we do not have direct duties to animals. What distinguishes them from human beings that might answer this question? We would argue that there is nothing. Animals unlike other 'property' can suffer and feel pain and have an interest in living.
Some philosophers argue that only beings that are able to make rational choices can have moral rights because the function of rights is to protect choice. Animals are not able to make rational choices because they can only follow instinct, they cannot follow logic.
Some philosophers believe that the function of rights is to protect interests. An argument from R.G. Frey argues that animals do not have interests because they do not have language. In order to desire something one must believe that one does not currently have that something and therefore believe that the statement ‘I have x’ is false. One cannot have such a belief unless one knows how language connects to the world. Animals can’t talk so they certainly are unable to know what it is that the sentence ‘I have x’ means in the real world. Therefore animals cannot have desires. Without desires animals cannot have interests. If the function of rights is to protect interests then animal rights serve no purpose.
 Frey, R,G. "Rights, Interests, Desires and Beliefs." Ethics for Everyday. (Benatar, D Ed.) McGraw Hill: New York. 2002
If only rational beings should be protected by rights then we should not protect babies or profoundly retarded people; but this is absurd. Animals do make choices according to their preferences e.g. lions choose a mate and dogs choose a spot to lie in the sun One is able to have interests without language because it is easily possible to be aware of a desire and understand that desire even if one does not think of that desire in words. Furthermore, there is some evidence that animals have languages of their own e.g. dolphins, birds.The challenger can also reject either theory of rights in favour of the other.
The right to dignity would mean nothing to an animal. Animals are incapable of being humiliated and are not harmed by being reduced to human servitude. A dog is not ashamed of its nudity or having to eat out of a bowl and wear a leash. Animals happily copulate and defecate in front of humans and other animals. What exactly an undignified action might be for an animal it is difficult to say.
The right to education, to vote, to fair trial, to be innocent until proven guilty, to privacy, marriage, nationality, religion, property, freedom of thought, freedom of speech, workers rights and shelter all seem impossible to apply to animals.
If we specially tailor rights to animals then how is that different to the status quo where we have certain laws protecting animals?
There is no reason why the rights we grant animals need be the same rights that we grant human beings. There may be laws that protect animals but these will be taken more seriously as rights because of the status we give to rights. Furthermore there are several rights that do apply to animals: the right to life, freedom of movement and the right not to be subjected to torture.
Frey, R,G. "Rights, Interests, Desires and Beliefs." Ethics for Everyday. (Benatar, D Ed.) McGraw Hill: New York. 2002
Singer, Peter. "All Animals are Equal." Ethics for Everyday. (Benatar, D Ed.) McGraw Hill: New York. 2002
Regan, Tom. "The Case for Animal Rights." Ethics for Everyday. (Benatar, D Ed.) McGraw Hill: New York. 2002