Should animals have rights?

Let’s discuss animal rights.

The crux of the animal rights argument is that humans are indistinguishable from animals in all but arbitrary ways. We have a different DNA structure and many humans have the ability to reason abstractly, but these two differences do not seem to justify why human suffering alone is morally relevant.

I think the argument goes something like this (though if someone out there can offer a stronger formulation I welcome it)…

Premise 1: Some animals suffer as some humans do, and think as some humans do.
Premise 2: A system of rights should be consistent; it should not give and deny rights arbitrarily.
Premise 3: It is wrong to treat weaker human beings, especially those who are lacking in normal human intelligence, as “tools” or “renewable resources” or “models” or “commodities.”
Premise 4: There is no morally relevant difference between humans and animals that makes one deserve rights and not the other.
Therefore: Some animals ought to be afforded some of the rights we afford all humans, including basic rights to freedom and life.

So the questions for the forum:
Which of these premises is wrong?
Does the conclusion not follow from the premises?
Is one of the assumptions being made invalid?
In what other ways is this argument bad?

One more point:
Most of us concede that unnecessary animal suffering is wrong. Why is useful animal suffering then moral? Because of the greater good? It seems to me that utilitarianism is an inadequate response to AR arguments. Here’s what Nozick says on this…

If you believe that there is no rational basis for ethics, or that ethics cannot be objectively debated, this isn’t the thread for you. If you believe that humans have souls and animals do not, and that souls entail rights, this is not the thread for you. For everyone else, let’s hear it.

I disagree with premise 1 but I believe animals have certain rights. For example I believe killing an animal for pleasure and leaving it to rot is unethical. Killing an animal to eat (and enjoying or not the process) is not. I think that the notion that a human life has infinite value just because is ridiculous. I happen to have a very dim view of humanity in general actually.

I haven’t had my coffee so I’m not sure what you are trying to debate with this. If you are thinking of Vegetarianism and such beliefs, I consider then well intended but extremist. Causing necessary (“useful”) suffering is a normal consequence of being alive.

Premise 1: True

Premise 2: Not sure what that system currently is.

Premise 3: True

Premise 4: Essentially true, but survival of the fittest puts us at the top of the chain.

Premise 5: I believe it is human compassion that compels us to treat animals that are our food source as humanely as possible. As far as rights go, we have every right to consume them as they do to consume each other.

I should be more clear: Being a vegetarian because animals get killed to feed us is extremist. Being a vegetarian as a form of protest because of the actions of the food industry is not. And if this has nothing to do with the OP, please disregard.

I’m going to say that of course animals & humans have essentially comparable rights.

I think there are those who want more consideration for their human feelings & pride than is actually their right, & less consideration for anyone else. Rousseau’s argument about respecting other humans to reinforce respect for you convinces them not to abuse their fellow man, so animals seem to get treated even worse by comparison.

And those who swallow whole the belief that human life is the one sacred thing :rolleyes: will gladly sacrifice almost any animal for almost any human thinking that reason leads them to do so. Some people would feel it *morally necessary to kill a mother elephant to save Ted Bundy’s life. Quite simply, they believe in the wrong absolutes. This derives, in the Christian West, from the belief of an influential philosopher named Descartes, whose philosophy, Cartesian dualism, held that man’s mind is spirit, while the rest of the world is mindless matter. This philosophy has been discredited on questions of fact, but the cultural morality that derived from it still informs law & popular prejudice.

But the logical default assumption should be that beasts are essentially like men, & of similar rights; & that what diminishes the rights of beasts may also diminish the rights of men.

So, it is immoral to torture a dog as it is immoral to torture a man. As it is necessary sometimes to kill deer, so it is necessary sometimes to kill men.

But try getting that through the Cartesian moral programming that pervades our culture.


agh. coding.

Also, I am not a vegetarian. I believe that humans are naturally built to subsist on a mixed diet of fruit, vegetables, insects, fish, birds, and small game–like other animals of our type. I don’t think that either human or animal rights should totally prevent being hunted & eaten by one’s natural predators.

This leads to some interesting attitudes toward lions & tigers, which are natural man-eaters…

What implication does your suggested principle have for how humans treat one another?

There is no premise 5; are you adding one?

You seem to be suggesting that whatever animals do to one another, we may do unto them. First, I must ask, do you apply this on the basis of individual animals (such that before you’ll eat Bessie the Cow, you must have evidence that she’s eaten another cow), or do you apply it on the basis of species (such that before you’ll eat your neighbor Bob, you must have evidence that some human has eaten another human)?

Second, I’m wondering why this principle applies. With humans, we have the insanity defense: if I can prove to a jury that I literally did not understand the difference between right and wrong when I committed a crime, I cannot be punished for that crime (although I can be locked up to protect myself). It seems to me that all nonhuman animals are incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong; we therefore hold them all as ethically irresponsible for their actions. With humans, that doesn’t mean we can commit wrongs on them; why would it mean that with animals?


I believe humans have more rights than animals simply because we are created in the image of God. Obviously, animals have a right not to be tortured, but they don’t have a right to live if we want to eat them.

Looks like I confused the conclusion with a premise 5 :smack:

Hmm, I kinda like the premise in Planet of the Apes, “Ape shall not kill Ape.”
If only man killing man were a ridiculous notion of the past.

Basically I don’t set us apart from animals. We are animals, not outsiders and part of the eco-system.

A tiger will eat a lamb and whether a lamb might turn around and eat a tiger someday is irrelevant.

And oh, some animals can tell right from wrong.

1st premise is false. They aren’t humans. They simply don’t have the same type of brains to suffer in a manner like a human. They don’t suffer or think the same way.

2nd premise is false. A prisoner or a minor child doesn’t have the same rights as adult non-criminal.

3rd premise is correct. Of course humans aren’t animals.

4th premise is blatantly false unless your are insane. Animals are lesser beings mental and physical capacities. When you get a monkey to write a Declaration of Independence or a Bill of Rights, I might listen to you.

Therefore: As usual, animal rights is something believed by the mentally disturbed.

Your other point: Animal use is only immoral when it when a treatment isn’t based on cultural, traditional, religous, or logical medical or commercial use. Trying to stop these uses is immoral. And it is because they aren’t humans.

On what basis, other than an entertaining science fiction movie, do you build this moral rule? I mean, is it more valid than “American shall not kill American” or “Vertebrate shall not kill vertebrate” or “adult shall not kill adult”? If so, why?

I’m not at all convinced that this is true for nonhuman animals. Can you give me an example?

Premise 1 gives me the most trouble. And not in the soul no soul way.
I’m not claiming that I flat out disagree with it, but it’s really tricky to me. Pain is a hard thing to quantify. Would you grant premise 1 to machines that mimic the behavior and reactions to distress and pain as some animals do?

Left Hand of Dorkness

I’ve felt pain, loss, despair. I don’t want my fellow human being to.

If your dog knows he shouldn’t get into the cupboard and forage for food, when you catch him in the act…there ya go.

I think that dogs can feel pain and despair (e.g., if a dog is placed in a tank of water and forced to swim or drown, does the dog start to feel despair once her strength begins to give out?) Do you agree? If so, do you want dogs to feel that?

I believe the dog knows he shouldn’t get in the cabinet in the same way that a toddler knows that she shouldn’t chew on the lamp cord: they know they’ll get in trouble for doing so, not that doing so is morally wrong.

But if you accept that dogs know the difference between right and wrong, would you favor holding them criminally accountable for their actions?


I’m wondering if I’m somehow coming off as unsympathetic to nonhuman animals.
I don’t think they should feel despair. I don’t think any nonhuman animal is mentally advanced enough to held “legally” acountable for their actions. No I don’t think they know what is morally wrong. But if a pair of dogs mauls a woman to death, who really wants to have anything to do with animals like that?

No, you’re not; I apologize if it sounds like I’m treating you as if you’ve got no compassion to your view.

My questions are really aimed at establishing a morally relevant distinction between the way we treat humans and the way we treat other animals.

Oh, I agree. But if an animal does not know it’s doing wrong when it kills a human, surely we cannot use its behavior to justify the acts we take against other animals (unless we’re taking acts specfically to protect humans from dogs): we do know the difference between right and wrong.

You can have a consistent moral system that holds humans accountable for cruelty to animals (e.g., a person causes a dog to starve to death) but doesn’t hold animals accountable for cruelty to animals (e.g., a tapeworm causes a dog to starve to death), based on the fact that the humans are moral agents, capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, and the tapeworm is not.

Given that, I don’t think we can say, “Oh, well, animals kill other animals for food, so why shouldn’t we?”


What I’m doing is stripping morality from the equation. I don’t see it as mankind deciding one day “Hey, they do it why can’t we?” It’s just a matter of that’s how homo-sapiens have nourished themselves for thousands of years. Since probably before the concept of morality emerged.

I’ll concede that morality puts a new spin on it though. Not to belittle the issue of course.
I’m a meat eater, sorry, but not completely oblivious or unsympathetic to your view.

Related to the OP, I never understood the distinction between killing animals to spare them from suffering (as often depicted in movies, especially westerns) and doing the same to humans (assuming consent of course). If it’s charitable to a horse it should also be charitable to a human. It seems illogical, unless it follows some archaic religious belief from 2000 years ago (in which case that’s to be expected).

Note that I’m not trying to start a debate on euthanasia, just understanding the motivation behind this distinction.

I see the distinction (and, incidentally, a major flaw in animal rights theory) in the difference between human attitudes toward death and animal attitudes toward death.

Specifically, while humans are overwhelmingly aware of our own mortality, fear our own mortality, contemplate it and take measures to postpone death, I am not convinced that animals are aware of their own mortality. Sure, they respond to avoid pain, and they’re aware of injury and take measures to avoid injury–but the discussion is euthanasia, not euinjuria.

Similarly, many people would prefer to live a long life of risk and suffering than a short life of safety. I see no reason to suspect that sheep would make the same choice, if they were capable of making the choice, or that a dog would make the same choice.

So I have very little problem with a farmer who raises sheep in cruelty-free (or cruelty-reduced) circumstances, and kills them when they’re six months old for lambchops; I have very little problem with a veterinarian who euthanizes an old arthritic dog . I do have a problem with a farmer who raises hogs to spend years in tiny cages as breeding sows, or with a fighter who pits two terriers against each other in a bloody fight to the death.

Note, again, that I draw this specific distinction in rights based on a specific difference between humans and nonhumans. The former tend to be aware of and terrified of their own death, so killing them is a great evil in itself. The latter tend not to be aware of or terrified of their own death, so killing them is not a great evil in itself.

However, I don’t think we can extrapolate from this difference to other differences. Both humans and many nonhumans are aware of and terrified of pain; I believe that, absent compelling reasons to the contrary, we need to avoid inflicting pain on either.


On premise 1: Yes, animal suffer and feel pain, yet I don’t think they think the same as humans do (for once, the nervous systems may vary a lot, and the responses that you may get in some species will not be the same for others).

On premise 4: Yes there are, like the posters before me have said.

And what are you calling “useful animal suffering”?

I don’t think there is such a thing. First, what some people may consider animal suffering is not really suffering, and therefore should not be included in that category. Second, people that do practices that cause harm to the animals are not doing useful things, either.