The idea of animal right and the place of non human creatures in the world alongside humans is one of the most controversial and potentially moving topics in the modern ethics. It necessarily leads to arguments regarding the nature of autonomy, the precise nature of what amounts to a right, alongside argument about what it actually means in order to be able to describe something or someone as human as opposed to animal. Reflecting on this the result of reading articles by Hare, Singer, Machan and Rolston. These articles have made it clear to me that animals do have rights but that these need to be mediated by human concerns.
The experience of investigating exactly what is meant by a “right” was one that forced me to reconsider the easy definition that I had previously held of them. Machan does not assume that all rights exist all of the time, but rather he traces the idea of a right to a specific point in history; the 18th century during which time political philosophy was still heavily influenced by Thomas Hobbes (1991, p. 165). Therefore, I found that my understanding of many political concepts and ideas was changed through this realisation and that I now question the historical genealogy of a concept when I am confronted with it.
This suspicion was mediated, however, by the experience of R. M. Hare’s practical ethics and a mobilisation of utilitarianism that provided me with a ground work for understanding how ethical decisions could be made regarding animals based on pragmatic circumstances. This further convinced me regarding animal rights. However, I found that when considered alongside Singer’s extreme statements regarding animal liberation, the idea of animal rights was less appealing. If they were to make sense for me, this could only be in the context of a reciprocal relationship between animals and humans, that recognises the ides that humans have priority over animals something that Singer precludes when he sates, in The Place of Non-Humans in Environmental Issues that animal rights should put on the same level as human economic concerns.
Although, the articles made me question the notion of humanness, I would maintain that humans should have priority over animals, although this does not preclude the idea of animal rights. Previously it had been clear to me that there was an obvious distinction between humans and animals, although I was no longer able to hold to this after reading the articles. In particular, Rolstons argument that anthropocentric views do ‘not guarantee that human animal rights and interests will converge’ emphasised the importance and the difficulty in understanding the nature of human and animal distinctions and the ways in which they impact every day life and the world views of many people (1999, p. 248).
As such, I would argue that my experience of reading the articles in question was to increase my overall belief in animal rights but to see belief mediated by human need. Without this then calls for rights can easily descend in a militarism that I do not find appealing or justified.
- Machan, Tibor R. (1991). Do Animals Have Rights?” Public Affairs Quarterly. 5 (3) : 163-173.
- Rolston III, Holmes. (1999). “Respect for Life: Counting what Singer Finds of no Account.” Singer and His Critics. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 247-268
- Singer, Peter. (1983). “Not for Humans Only: The Place of Nonhumans in Environmental Issues.”