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5.  Although some animals can experience pain, they lack a psychological identity.

Some animals like shellfish, may be capable of experiencing pain but appear to lack other psychological faculties.  In this case, their rights might differ from the rights of humans or other non-humans.  The issue is whether there is a moral justification to cause pain to these psychologically deficient beings.

Most people agree that we should not engage in activities that cause pain and suffering to other people.  Inherent in that recognition is the knowledge that other people are capable of pain and suffering.  If an activity causes undue suffering to someone, the activity is morally unacceptable.  If we accept that animals are capable of suffering, is it not therefore morally unacceptable to cause them to suffer.  To treat animal suffering differently from human suffering is tantamount to Speciesism.

“The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?” – Jeremy Bentham

6.  Reciprocity of moral rights and duties.

The basis for this argument is that rights belong to moral agents, and animals lack moral agency.  Conferment of rights implies reciprocation (respect of the rights of other moral agents).

Animals cannot reciprocate.  They cannot distinguish between good or bad; they have no mens rea or requisite intent.  A tiger does not believe it is wrong to hunt and eat a human baby.  If the tiger kills a human baby, she is not guilty.  She cannot make a choice on a moral basis.  Only humans understand rights, and privileges.  Therefore, only humans are entitled to those entitlements.

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Pitbull saves baby from fire

The philosopher best known for criticizing the animal rights view is Carl Cohen. Cohen argues against animal rights by stating that “animals cannot be the bearers of rights, because the concept of rights is essentially human; it is rooted in the human moral world and has force and applicability only within that world.”  He admits that animals are sentient – that they have a consciousness and can experience suffering, but adds that these common traits do not make animals morally equal to humans.[1]

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Cohen explains that just because humans have obligations to animals, does not imply that animals have rights.  Cohen writes that an obligation is what “we ought to do,” whereas a right is “what others can justly demand that we do.”  Some obligations do not flow from rights.  Humans have an obligation to act humanely towards animals although animals have no rights.  Cohen states that humans have a moral duty not to inflict “gratuitous” pain and suffering on animals.  However, this does not mean that humans must stop every activity that is harmful to these animals.[2]

Cohen and many others opposed to the Animal Rights movement claim that only humans have the unique ability to lay down moral laws –animals do not do this.  Consequently, the status of a human baby, for example, is different than that of a baby bear..

Individual persons do not qualify for rights– rights are universally human.  Rights are not tied to individual abilities.  Individuals are in a community of moral beings.  Hence, they inevitably have rights.  For example, although mentally impaired humans, humans in a coma and infants cannot make a moral claim, they have rights on the sole basis that they are homo- sapiens.  All humans as a moral species, not as individual humans, have rights.

bay and gorillaThe contrary view is that having moral duties is an inappropriate criterion for asserting rights   The sole fact that one is homo-sapien is a narrow-minded justification for the establishment of rights.  We respect the rights of certain humans who do not have moral duties – babies, the severely mentally ill, the criminally insane, or otherwise deranged humans.  We respect their rights and they cannot reciprocate.  These humans like non-humans do not have a duty to respect our rights. We recognize that we have a moral duty towards them, even though they cannot reciprocate.  What is true of cases involving these humans is no less true of cases involving other animals.

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                                       Click on tragic photo -survivors 40 years later  

Jim Jones, the founder and leader of the Peoples Temple, ran a compound in Guyana, called Jonestown.  On November 18, 1978, California Congressman Leo J. Ryan paid a visit to Jonestown.  After touring the facility, Ryan left the compound with a number of defectors.  In seeking revenge, Jones sent some of his men to the airstrip in Port Kaituma, where they killed Ryan and four others.  Later that same day, 909 of Jones’ followers, 303 of which were children, died of apparent cyanide poisoning.  Jones committed suicide with a gunshot to the head.

On June 10, 1991, Jaycee Lee Dugard (“Jaycee”) was kidnapped in South Lake Tahoe, California, while she was walking to a school bus stop.   Immediately after Phillip Garrido (“Garrido”) kidnapped Jaycee, he forced her into a shower with him. The first time he raped her, she was still in handcuffs, in which she remained during her first week in captivity.  Almost 2 months later, Garrido moved her to a room, where she was handcuffed to a bed.  Jaycee was kept in a hidden area behind the Garridos’ house in Antioch for 18 years.  During this time, she had two daughters.  On June 2, 2011, Garrido was sentenced to 431 years imprisonment; his wife Nancy Garrido received 36 years to life.

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Phillip Garrido

On June 10, 1991, Jaycee Lee Dugard (“Jaycee”) was kidnapped in South Lake Tahoe, California, while she was walking to a school bus stop.   Immediately after Phillip Garrido (“Garrido”) kidnapped Jaycee, he forced her into a shower with him. The first time he raped her, she was still in handcuffs, in which she remained during her first week in captivity.  Almost 2 months later, Garrido moved her to a room, where she was handcuffed to a bed.  Jaycee was kept in a hidden area behind the Garridos’ house in Antioch for 18 years.  During this time, she had two daughters.  On June 2, 2011, Garrido was sentenced to 431 years imprisonment; his wife Nancy Garrido received 36 years to life.

Does it make sense to say that these individuals are entitled to more rights and protections than a horse or a lamb solely on the basis that the species they belong to has the ability to make moral choices?

Does the human ability to make moral choices, impose a moral duty to ensure the protection of non-humans despite their moral deficiency (as we do with humans lacking the ability to make moral decisions and those who despite their ability to make moral choices, commit utterly evil crimes)?

“The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.” – Leonardo Da Vinci

[1] Carl Cohen and Tom Regan, The Animal Rights Debate (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001)

[2] Op.cit.