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Oderberg - The Illusion of Animal Rights

Oderberg - The Illusion of Animal Rights

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03/28/2013

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The
Illusion
of
Animal
Rights
David
S.
Oderberg
You
mightbewonderingwhatanarticleonanimalrightsisdoinginajournaldevotedtothedefence
of
humanlife.
It
turnsoutthattheconnectionsarecloserthanyoumaythink.Graspingthemiscrucialtoaproperunderstanding
of
justwhyinnocenthumanlifemustbedefended,
of
whythekilling
of
eventhetiniest,youngestmember
of
thehumanspeciesisanunspeakablecrime.Foritisbyanalysingtheissue
of
whetheranimalshaverightsthatwecometoseethecoredifferencesbetweenhumansandotheranimals
I-the
differencesinthe
nature
of
humansandanimalsthatmeanhumanshaverightsandanimalsdonot.Understandingtheissuealsogivesusaninsightintotheideologicalmotivations
of
theanti-lifemovement,atleastthesignificantstrand
of
itwhichisinfluencedbyPeterSingerandhisfollowers.Theanimalrightsissuecertainlyhasstokedupstrongpassions.InBritain,fewotherissuesarecapable
of
bringingsomanypeople
of
apparentgoodwillontothestreets;
of
causingotherwisequiet,politicallyinactivemiddleclasscitizenstopelttrucks(containingliveanimalexports)withrocks,formhumanbarricades,breakintolaboratoriestoreleasecaptiveanimalsintothewild,disruptfashionshowsandhuntingmeets,andbombardtheirpoliticianswithletters
of
complaintabouttheabuse
of
animals.True,Britainhasbeenderidedasanation
of
"animallovers,"butsuchsentimentalismaside,onefindsmuchhard-nosed,ideologicalresentmentatthewayanimalsaretreated,resentmentwhichcanturnintoactionataslightprovocation.WhenthephilosopherMichaelLeahypublishedabookagainstanimalrights,
2
hewassubjectedtoafiercehatecampaign.AcademicslikeRogerScruton
3
andPeterCarruthers
4
havebravedridiculeandevencontemptfortheirphilosophicaloppositiontoanimalrights.Mostpeople,seeingthepassionandcommitmentwithwhichanimalrightistsdefendtheircause,think:"Surelypeoplewhocangetsoworkedupaboutanissuehaveapoint?"Andwhensomeonestandsuptosaythatanimalsdo
not
haverights,
or
thatitisatleastanarguableissue,inmanyeyesitistantamounttosaying:"It'sOKtodowhatyouliketo
animals-they've
gotnorights,"
wherethespecialemphasisonthelastfewwordsissupposedtoconveytheideathatbecausetheyhavenorights,theyhavenomoralstandingwhatsoever.
DavidS.
Oderberg
isReaderinPhilosophyattheUniversity
of
Reading.England.Thisarticledrawsonmaterialfromchapter3
of
hisrecentlypublishedbook
AppliedEthics
(Oxford:Blackwell,2000),inwhichtheargumentagainstanimalrightsissetoutindetail.
SPRING-SUMMER
2000/37
 
DAVID
S.
OOERBERG
Itistimetheanimalrightsissue,liketheabortionandeuthanasiaissues,waslookedatinalessemotionallychargedandmorephilosophical
way.
It'stimethatsomemyths,oftendeliberatelysown,werecleared
up.
Herearea
few.
Myth#1:
If
youthinkanimalsdonothaverights,youmustthinkitisallrighttodoanythingtothem,thattheirwelfaredoesnotmatter.Myth#2:PeterSingerandhisfollowersbelieveinanimalrights.Myth#3:Traditionalmoralists,whoarebothpro-lifeandopposeanimalrightsbutbelieveinanimalwelfare,canmakecommoncausewithwhatIwillcallrevolutionarymoralists,whoarebothpro-abortionandeitherbelieveinanimalrights
or
takeaSingerianconsequentialistlinegivingnospecialmoralprioritytohumansjustbecausetheyarehumans.Notethedistinctionbetweentraditionalandrevolutionarymorality.Singerhimselfsubtitledhis1995book
RethinkingLifeandDeath
as
TheCollapse
of
ourTraditionalEthics,5
histargetbeingpreciselythemoralitythatregardshumanlifeasbothsacredandqualitativelydistinctfromthat
of
anyothercreatureontheplanet.Hisuse
of
"traditional"iscorrect.Indeed,onecangofurther:thetraditionalmoralposition
of
Westerncivilizationisthathumanshaverightsandanimalsdonot.Thereare,however,peopleinthepro-lifemovement(theirnumbersarehardtoassess),whobelievethatthesanctity
of
humanlifeisjustifiedbythesamereasonthatjustifiesthesanctity
of
all(sentient?conscious?)life:theseareallGod'screatures,andtheyallhavetheirspecialdestiny.Whateverthemerits
of
sucha
position-and
Ibelievethemtobe
few-this
isnot,andmustnotbeportrayedas,thetraditionalmoralposition.Asapreludetoexplainingthemythsstatedabove,Iwanttosketchthetraditionalpositiononanimalrights.Oncewegetclearonwhatethicalstatusanimals
lack
wecanbeclearaboutwhatstatusthey
have,
andabouthowthetraditionalandrevolutionarypositionsdiffer,withsuchdrasticconsequencesfortheabortiondebate.Noteinitially,however,thatthereisnopuzzle
inthe
ideathatwehaveaduty,say,nottoinflictunnecessarysufferingonanimals,butthattheyhaveno
right
nottobetreatedthisway.Therearemanythingsonepersonoughtnottodotoanother,butwhichdonotinvolvearightbythesecondagainstthefirst.
You
oughttobekindtostrangers,buttheydonothavea
right
toyourkindness.Yououghtnottousebadlanguage,butothersdonothavea
right
nottobesubjectedtoyourprofanities.Rightsandjusticego
together-when
youviolatearightyouarebeingunjust.
But
whenthepriestandtheLevitepassedbyontheotherside,theywerenotbeing
unjust
tothemanwhofellamongrobbers;theywerebeing
uncharitable.
Moralityinvolvesmorethanrights:itinvolvesduties,virtues(likecharityandcompassion),customs,traditions,andsoon.
38/SPRING-SUMMER
2000
 
THEHUMANLIFE
REVIEW
Sohowdorightsfitin?Whatisaright,anyway?Inordertounderstandtheconcept
of
aright,weneedtounderstandtheconcept
of
agood.Thenweneedtograspwhyitisthatparadigmaticholders
of
rights,namelyhumanbeings,havesuchastatus;andwecanthenseewhythisstatuscannotbeextendedtootheranimals.
To
begin,agoodcanbedefinedasthatend
of
anactionwhichfulfilsthenature
of
athing.Thereareanumber
of
goodswhichfulfilhumannature,withoutwhichahumanbeingcannot
flourish
orliveadistinctivelyhumanlife.Theseincludesuchmaterialthingsasfood,shelter,warmthandhealth,butalsothings
of
amorepsychological,emotionalorintellectualnature,such
as
family,friendship,knowledgeandunderstanding,work,play,artisticexperience,andreligion.Thesearesome
of
theprincipalthingswhich,touseAristotle'sterm,fulfilus
as
rationalanimals.
Theabsence
of
any
of
themdiminishesourhumandignity,our
integrity-it
leavesnotjustaquantitativebutaqualitative
gap
inourlives.
But
if
humanbeingsarerationalanimals,andhaverights,thismeanssomeanimalshave
rights-so
whynotothers?What'ssospecialaboutushumans?
Isn't
it
arbitrary-to
useSinger'sterm,
"speciesist"-to
saythathumananimalshaverightsbutothersdonot?Whenweseehowrightsinteractwithgoods,itbecomesclearwhyitisnot
insofarasweareanimals
thathumanshaverights,but
insofaraswearerational.
Arightisbestthought
of
as
akind
of
protectionconferredbymorality.Forexample,myrighttoprivacymeansthatIamprotected
by
moralityitselfin
mypursuit
of
thegoodwhichprivacyconstitutes,namelyasphere
of
activitywhichremainsunknowntoothers.Withoutsuchasphere
of
activityaperson'sintegritywouldbeundermined;privacyisessentialtohumandignity,andisthereforeagood.Now,likemanygoodsitmaynotbeprotectedbythelegalsystem.Butthisdoesnotmeanwecaninvadeeachother'sprivacy,sincemoralityitselfconfersprotection:Ihaveamoralrighttoprivacy,andyourviolation
of
thatrightwouldbeblameworthyunlessjustifiedbyagreaterright,saytherighttolife.Aright,then,protectsapersoninhispursuit
of
somegood.Itmeansthatothersareunderadutynottoviolatethatright;thattherightholderismorallypermittedtoexercisehisrightwithouthindrance;andeven,insomecases,thatheispermittedtouseforceinsafeguardinghisright(e.g.theright
of
self-defence).Thatisallwellandgood,sayanimalrights
supporters-but
whyareanimalsexcludedfrombeingrightholders?
Don't
they,justlikehumans,havewhateverisnecessaryforthepossession
of
rights?Whythedistinction?
It
isherethatanimalrightistsstartgoing
off
indifferentdirections.
SPRING-SUMMER
2000/39

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