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The Case for Animal Rights

by Tom Regan

425 pages, paperback, University of California Press, 1985

The Case for Animal Rights makes the case--clearly, forcefully and thoroughly--that animals have a basic moral right to be treated in ways that show respect for their independent value.

Praise for The Case for Animal Rights

"Unquestionably the best work yet to appear in its field, surpassing even Peter Singer's famous Animal Liberation in originality, thoroughness and rigor."--Choice

The Case for Animal Rightsis beyond question the most important philosophical contribution to animal rights and is a major work in moral philosophy."--Henry Cohen, Animal Law Review

"The most powerful and plausible consideration of the issues and defense of animal rights yet produced (or likely to be)."-- Richard Wasserstrom

"By far the best work on the subject, and will continue to be the definitive work for years to come. . . . destined to become a 'modern classic' in the field of ethics, along side Rawls' A Theory of Justice and Nozick's Anarchy, State and Utopia."--Alastair S. Gunn

"A lucid, closely reasoned and dispassionate book presenting the case for animal rights."--Robert Nozick, New York Times Book Review

About Tom Regan

Quotes from The Case for Animal Rights

"When properly understood, it is the rights view, not utilitarianism, that provides the philosophical basis for principled objections to the worst forms of moral prejudice-- such as racism. In their paradigmatic form, moral prejudices consist in supposing that making certain individuals worse-off than others can be justified by appealing to side effects--for example, to the interests of others affected by the outcome. The racist, for example, is more than willing to allow that blacks be made worse-off because he and his ilk like whites more than they like blacks. Because, given utilitarian theory, the racist's pleasure, preferences, and so forth, count and most be counted equitably, and because, given this theory, we must aim to bring about the best aggregate result, utilitarianism is not in principle inhospitable to racism. The rights view bars its entrance. It will not allow the aggregate balance of goods over evils for all affected by the outcome to justify harming anyone, least of all making any individual worse-off than others. Lest the racists aggregate their collective gains and losses to their hearts' content; that will go no way toward justifying what they do to individual members of the victimized group, when these individuals are made worse-off than any other individual affected by the outcome.

"The same is true of speciesism. Those harms done to animals cannot be justified by appeals to the optimal aggregate balance of goods over evils obtained by others. To suppose otherwise is to assume that those animals who, as individuals, are made worse- off can have their harmful inflictions or deprivations morally offset by summing the goods and evils others obtain or avoid. And this is something that cannot be done unless we view these animals as mere receptacles, an erroneous assumption given the rights view and the postulate of inherent value on which it rests. Thus we do have, on the rights view, the basis utilitarians lack for protesting against, for example, those who would use animals in terminal research, but not humans, when the death caused these animals marks a greater loss, and thus a greater harm, than it would in the case of some humans who might be used in their place. For the magnitude of the harm that death is, is a function of the number and variety of opportunities for satisfaction it forecloses, and there is no credible basis on which to claim that the death of a normal, adult animal is not a greater loss, and thus a greater harm, than the death of a less aware, retarded human, one who possesses fewer desires, less competence to act intentionally, and is less responsive to others and to the environment generally.

". . . Special considerations aside, to persist in using animals in terminal research, when the magnitude of the harm that death is for them is greater than it would be for a retarded human, is speciesist, and it is a variety of speciesism, ironically, that could be supported by the very theory that has been appealed to to denounce this prejudice-- namely, utilitarianism. But lest it be thought that the rights view's position on the use of animals and humans in terminal or other research is an invitation to begin to use less fortunate human beings in lieu of animals, let it be clear that the use of human beings, like the use of animals, cannot be defended merely by appealing to aggregate consequences. As moral patients, these human beings are to be protected by the very same principles that apply to our dealings with all who are innocent."

. . .

"The principal conclusion reached in the present chapter is that all moral agents and patients have certain basic moral rights. To say that these individuals possess basic (or unacquired) moral rights means that (1) they possess certain rights independently of anyone' voluntary acts, either their own or those of others, and independently of the position they happen to occupy in any given institutional arrangement; (2) these rights are universal--that is, they are possessed by all relevantly similar individuals, independently of those considerations mentioned in (1); and (3) all who possess these rights possess them equally. Basic moral rights thus differ both from acquired moral rights (e.g., the right of the promissee against the promissor) because one acquires these rights as a result of someone' voluntary acts or one' place in an institutional arrangement and from legal rights (e.g., the right to vote) since legal rights, unlike basic moral rights, are not equal or universal."

. . .

"Few issues divide philosophers as deeply as the debate over moral rights. When, for example, Singer expresses his regrets over referring to rights in the course of his argument for animal liberation, what he says is illustrative of the tendency on the part of some thinkers to disparage appeals to rights in moral philosophy, appeals that are, in the words of the nineteenth- century English philosopher D. G. Ritchie, 'a rhetorical device for gaining a point without the trouble of proving it' (a 'device' that, Ritchie goes on to observe, 'may be left to the stump-orator or party journalist but which should be discredited in all serious writing'). An even more caustic accusation about the use of 'the rhetoric of rights' is offered by Hare, who laments the frequency with which people ask the question, What rights do I have? 'For people who ask this . . . question,' he writes, 'will, being human, nearly always answer that they have those rights, whatever they are, which will promote a distribution of goods which is in the interest of their own social group. The rhetoric of rights, which is engendered by this question, is a recipe for class war, and civil war. In pursuit of these rights, people will, because they have convinced themselves that justice demands it, inflict almost any harms on the rest of society and on themselves.' Worse than being a mere 'rhetorical device,' appeals to and beliefs about rights, on Hare's view, can be positively harmful.

"It is no accident that Hare and Singer, for example, who we know are advocates of utilitarianism, should disassociate themselves from reliance on moral rights. In doing so, they follow in Bentham's well-known footsteps. 'Rights are,' he writes,

. . . the fruits of law, and of the law alone. There are no rights without law--no rights contrary to the law--no rights anterior to the law. . . . There are no other than legal rights;--no natural rights--no rights of man, anterior or superior to those created by the laws. The assertion of such rights, absurd in logic, is pernicious in morals.

"Worse than 'nonsense'--Bentham actually characterizes talk of rights other than legal rights as 'nonsense upon stilts'-- invocations of 'the rights of man' are dangerous nonsense. How much the repudiation of moral rights by these utilitarians is itself a 'rhetorical device' may be left to the reader to decide."

. . .

"In this final chapter some of the implications of the rights view, as these relate to our treatment of animals, are explained and defended. It will not be possible to examine the enormous variety of ways in which human acts and institutions affect animals. In particular, such activities as rodeos, bullfights, horse and dog racing, and other public 'sports' involving animals will go unexamined, as will petting zoos, roadside zoos, and zoological parks, including aquaria, and the use of animals in circuses and in the film industry. These uses of animals are not examined, not because they are unimportant, but because others, which are either more common or more celebrated, require pride of place. By making it clear what the rights view's position is regarding those activities and institutions that are examined, it should be clear what its view would be regarding many of the areas that are not.

"The four areas that will concern us are raising and consuming farm animals, hunting and trapping wild animals, saving endangered species of animals, and using animals in science. The discussion of endangered species will provide the occasion for some further remarks on environmental ethics and concerns."

. . .

In issuing its condemnation of established cultural practices, the rights view is not antibusiness, not antifreedom of the individual, not antiscience, not antihuman. It is simply projustice, insisting only that the scope of justice be seen to include respect for the rights of animals. To protest against the rights view that justice applies only to moral agents, or only to human beings, and that we are within our rights when we treat animals as renewable resources, or replaceable receptacles, or tools, or models, or things--to protest in these terms is not to meet the challenge the rights view places before those who would reject it. On the contrary, it is unwittingly to voice the very prejudices it has been the object of the present work to identify and refute.

But prejudices die hard, all the more so when, as in the present case, they are insulated by widespread secular customs and religious beliefs, sustained by large and powerful economic interests, and protected by the common law. To overcome the collective entropy of these forces-against-change will not be easy. The animal rights movement is not for the faint of heart. Success requires nothing less than a revolution in our culture's thought and action. . . . How we change the dominant misconception of animals--indeed, whether we change it--is to a large extent a political question. Might does not make right; might does make law. Moral philosophy is no substitute for political action. Still, it can make a contribution. Its currency is ideas, and though it is those who act--those who write letters, circulate petitions, demonstrate, lobby, disrupt a fox hunt, refuse to dissect an animal or to use one in 'practice surgery,' or are active in other ways--though these are the persons who make a mark on a day-to-day basis, history shows that ideas do make a difference. Certainly it is the ideas of those who have gone before--the Salts, the Shaws, and more recent thinkers--who have helped move the call for the recognition of animal rights, in the words of Mill that serve as this book's motto, past the stage of ridicule to that of discussion. It is to be hoped that the publication of this book will play some role in advancing this great movement, the animal rights movement, toward the third and final stage--the stage of adoption. To borrow words used in a different context by the distinguished American photographer, Ansel Adams, 'We are on the threshold of a new revelation, a new awakening. But what we have accomplished up to this time must be multiplied a thousandfold if the great battles are to be joined and won.'" -- The Epilogue

Table of Contents of The Case for Animal Rights

  1. Animal Awareness
  2. The Complexity of Animal Awareness
  3. Animal Welfare
  4. Ethical Thinking and Theory
  5. Indirect Duty Views
  6. Direct Duty Views
  7. Justice and Equality
  8. The Rights View
  9. Implications of the Rights View

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