Moral Community and Animal Rights
Sapontzis (Steve F.)
Source: American Philosophical Quarterly , Jul., 1985, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Jul., 1985), pp. 251-257
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. In this paper I discuss three possible justifications for what I believe to be the basic objection to extending moral rights to non-human beings; "But they're just animals!" Many people who are well informed about not only the physical but also the psychological and social interests of animals still feel justified in treating animals as resources for fulfilling human interests. This is because animals supposedly lack that something of fundamental moral worth which calls for respect and not merely for humane treatment and slaughter.
  2. It is three interpretations of that morally significant something which I want to consider here. These three interpretations all involve the idea that only those who participate in some kind of moral community with us can be entitled to moral rights against us. These three interpretations are the major premises of the following arguments against animal rights:
      • Al : Only those who respect the moral rights of others are entitled to moral rights, ("the reciprocity requirement")
      • A2: Animals cannot respect moral rights.
      • A3: Therefore, animals cannot be entitled to moral rights.
      • Bl: Only moral agents are entitled to moral rights. ("the agency requirement")
      • B2: Animals cannot be moral agents.
      • B3: Therefore, animals cannot be entitled to moral rights.
      • Cl: One is entitled to moral rights against others on the basis of his (capacity for) familial, personal, political, economic, etc., relations to them, ("the relations requirement")
      • C2: Animals cannot enter into such relations with humans.
      • C3: Therefore, animals cannot be entitled to moral rights against humans.
  3. I will take up each of these arguments in turn. But before doing so, I want briefly to indicate what I think animal rights are about, so that it will be clear to what the above are objections. I believe that talk of "liberating" animals and extending moral "rights" to them refers to changing our attitude toward animals from one which regards them as beings who must be treated humanely but who are, nonetheless, fundamentally resources for fulfilling human interests to an attitude which regards animals as fellow creatures whose interest in an enjoyable, satisfying life must be respected and protected in the way basic human interests are respected and protected. Currently, basic animal interests, e.g., in life and liberty, are routinely sacrificed to satisfy human interests, some of which, e.g., in hunting and gourmet cooking, are far from basic; the primary purpose of extending moral rights to animals would be to insure that their interests could be sacrificed for fulfilling human interests only in the sorts of situations and according to the sorts of principles which justify sacrificing the interests of some humans to fulfill the interests of others.

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