Non-human animals are given rights only because of their interactions with human beings. Without involvement with humans, animals do not deserve rights. It is through this interaction with humans that animals are even given moral consideration. We do not give rights to a rock simply because it is a creation of Mother Nature, similarly non-human animals do not have rights unless it is in regards to humans. As pointed out by Jan Narveson “morality is a sort of agreement among rational, independent, self-interested persons who have something to gain from entering into such an agreement’ (192).
In order to have the ability to obtain rights one must be consciously able to enter into an agreement, non-human animals are unable to do so. Entering into an agreement is done so because both parties have something to gain from this understanding. Narveson’s view of morality can be understood in two parts: 1. ) entering into an agreement is done so for one’s self-interest and 2. ) they are willing and able to enter into an agreement and maintain it. This separates humans from them in that animals are unable to willingly enter into any sort of agreement or stay true to it.
Morality is a human concept, completely original and separate from the animal kingdom. Animals, as I understand, do not consider whether what they are doing is morally permissible or objectionable, they simply act without regard to the consequences of their actions. Furthermore, humans have no reason to give animals rights based on the fact that humans have little to gain from doing so. An animal is not able to enter into an agreement and thus does not deserve to gain such rights simply for existing. Only through their interaction with human beings are animals even considered to have rights. Without humans the concept of rights doesn’t exist amongst animals.
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Contrary to Narveson, I do not believe that animals should be denied of moral consideration because of their limited ability to harm humans. First of all, this statement is false animals clearly have the ability to attack if so desired not by the human, but by the decision of the animal. In our sculpted urban environments animals are exiled and in relatively minimal human contact. Such predacious animals, that have historically attacked humans, have been kept out of our society by enormous architectural fences.
These animals that attack usually need vast open spaces to hunt game, these environments hardly exist any more, and these animals are rarely in contact with humans. These urban areas do not attract animals with the capacity to attack humans but that is not to say that these animals do not have the ability to harm us, we have just manipulated our environment so that they are on the outside. One thousand years ago, humans would have been more likely to have been attacked by an animal. Our modern buildings and infrastructure isolate us from these creatures and has also reduced their population making it less dangerous for a human to worry about being struck by a beast on their way to work. Also, Narveson states that “Humans have excellent reason to be fearful about each other’ (193).
She goes on to state that humans not only have the capacity to harm one another but are often “interested in doing so’ (194).
In the case of an animal attacking a human Narveson argues that it sporadically occurs and in the event of an animal attacking a human we can simply cage or shoot them. Is this any different from how we treat human on human violence? The penalty for harming another human is often imprisonment or death, just like the penalty an animal would suffer at the hand of a human. The concept of suffering has often been applied to understand whether an animal deserves rights. Like Vicki Hearne, I too argue that suffering should not be an antidote to decipher whether an animal deserves rights or not. An animal’s ability to feel the sensation of pain is not reason enough to grant it rights. In the case of an infant, we are willing to grant the child rights not based on the fact that she or he can feel pain, but because that child’s parents would be upset.
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The child is a part of a larger whole, a member of society and a family that care for them. In defense of her own training of animals Hearne states that we are willing to grant her Airedale rights “for his capacity to scream when subjected to a blowtorch but not for his wit and courage, not for his natural good manners that are a gentle rebuke to ours’ (61).
Another point brought up by Hearne is that children, just like dogs, “have almost no unconscious minds, so they can learn only by thinking’ (63).
She goes on to say that it isn’t until these children are educated for many years that they are able to understand their ability. Animals do not deserve rights simply for inhabiting the earth with us. Non-human animals have no concept of morality thus they should not be guaranteed rights.
According to John Chipman Gray animals do not deserve rights because they are “incapable of being moral subjects,’ Animals cannot be “reasoned with’ or instructed in their responsibilities; they are inflexible and unadaptable to future contingencies; they are subject to fits of instinctive passion which they are incapable of repressing or controlling, postponing or sublimating. (182) Joel Feinberg agrees that “animals are incapable of claiming rights on their own’ (182).
Since morality is a human concept and animals are unable to engage in conversation, animals lack the ability to coherently express a desire for their own personal rights. Though this may be a barrier that is a result of human’s inability to understand the needs of animals, it is because of this lack of communication of needs that animals do not simply require rights. Animals are unable to engage in agreements or act in a moral way that distinguishes right from wrong. Non-human animals do not have the ability to recognize when or if their rights are being violated.
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Simply by reacting to pain an animal does not necessarily mean that the animal is aware that something morally wrong is being done to it. Since animals are unable to understand when their rights have been violated or if they have been violated at all they cannot bring about any action to change such activity. Non-human animals are unable to even conceive a sense of what is right and there is nothing that they themselves can do to prevent their rights from being violated. Only through humans speaking on behalf of an animal does an animal gain rights. But, should an animal deserve rights because a human being can speak on behalf of it? I hardly think so.
Unlike animals, even an intellectually challenged human has the ability to enter or leave an agreement. Since animals are unable to assert their needs and defend their own rights they need a human to act as a tool to see to it that the rights of the animal is protected. Feinberg goes on to say that those that are deserving of rights are those that can or have the ability to have interests (184).
Feinberg continues with two qualifications of a being deserving of rights: 1. ) they must be able to be represented further, it is impossible to represent a being that has no interests, and 2. ) “because a right holder must be capable of being a beneficiary in his own person, and a being without interests is a being that is incapable of being harmed?’ (184).
The argument may be made that shouldn’t animals be considered to have a right to moral consideration based on the fact that they have intrinsic value in themselves? No, animals do not have intrinsic value in themselves. They are only given importance through human’s interaction with them and thus have instrumental value for humans. As Feinberg argues, “? we do have duties to protect threatened species; not duties to the species themselves as such, but rather duties to future human beings, duties derived from our housekeeping role as temporary inhabitants of this planet?’ (185).
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As such, animals only have value because human beings have given them worth and are not deserving of moral consideration. Humans do not have any moral obligation to animals themselves, but rather, have a moral duty through animals to other human beings. Non-human animals are not deserving of rights because they have no ability to understand the concept of morality, or even distinguish between right and wrong.
Because animals lack the ability to engage in agreements, or recognize when their rights have been violated, and possess no sense of morality they are not deserving of moral consideration from human beings.