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The case when thousands of human beings have offered their urgent assistance and guidance towards getting the whales lost in the Sacramento River to move back to the ocean illustrates the lucid inconsistency in human behaviors. In this connection, it might be relevant to notice that such apparent human care about animal creatures contradicts people’s widely spread interest in hunting for either pleasure or profit. Also, a mental note should be made that in the United States approximately 15 million mammals are annually used in animal experiments and research. The aforementioned practices give rise to a fairly prominent ethical question concerning animals’ rights. All the pros and cons of the ethical approach to rights and obligations with regard to animals are going to be investigated in order to make an appropriate conclusion.
Keywords: animals’ rights, ethics, Descartes, sentient being, experiment, research
What are animals’ rights?
According to Barbara McKinnon (2010), a right should be apprehended as a strong and legitimate claim which can be made by a claimant against others (p. 206). The aforesaid claim may be explicated as either a right to possess or get something (a positive right) or a right not to be prevented from doing something (a negative right). Hence, animals’ rights should be grasped as positive or negative claims which correspond with animals’ interests.
Arguments in favor of animals’ rights
As far as the ethical theory of animals’ rights is concerned, it seems prudent to agree with the statement that the ability of sentient beings to feel pain provides the right not to suffer needlessly (McKinnon, 2010, p. 206). In addition, some philosophers argue that animals have interests regarding different material things. It proves that they have rights according to their position. Taking into consideration that a wide range of the US laws coupled with international conventions such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of 2002 protect animals, it is possible to affirm that a set of rights and duties in respect of them is formally prescribed (McKinnon, 2010, p. 204). A benefit of animals’ rights lies in the fact that animals are very useful creatures because both social and personal life of every human individual can not be fully valuable without such attributes as pets, zoos, circuses, racing of animals, riding, food, clothes, medical drugs and devices obtained from animals etc (McKinnon, 2010, p. 205). On the individual level, the protection of animals’ rights allows every person to realize his or her interests connected with animals as friends. Likewise, human beings protect animal species from anthropocentric reasons. Society is always interested in prosperity and development, either material or spiritual. Thus, animals assist the progress of augmenting economical relations as well as satisfy various social needs. Also, many researchers express confidence that animals are sentient beings which are capable to feel pleasure and pain. In view of the above, they are entitled not to be behaved in cruel ways. Furthermore, taking into account the conception that animals are sentient beings, people are obliged not to inflict pain or harm on them. In the context of the cruel behavior, it should be added that some researchers believe animals to have particular moral status and therefore a number of limits and restrictions need to be imposed on the persons who perform research or experiments with these creatures ((McKinnon, 2010, p. 209).
Arguments against animals’ rights
There is also a quite comprehensive approach based on the vision that animal species is a mere term, a class or category which does not actually exist (McKinnon, 2010, p. 211). Thus, the legal protection of endangered species should be recognized as a fictional protection. Moreover, several philosophers are prone to believe animals to be inanimate creatures possessing no rights or moral status and hence can be exploited as people desire (McKinnon, 2010, p. 209). Besides, Rene Descartes juxtaposes animals with machines elaborating on the two significant features which facilitate the differentiation between human beings and animal creatures: the faculty of true speech and the existence of rational as well as “immaterial, imperishable souls” (Manning and Serpell, 1994, p. 86). As the result, animals resemble soulless machines according to Descartes. However, there are reasonable grounds to disagree with the aforesaid position because animals as irrational, soulless, immoral and speechless creatures are not devoid of rights.
After everything has been given due consideration, the drawbacks of Cartesian arguments may be opposed by the example of children’s case. An infant as a human being is not sufficiently capable in the faculties of rational thinking, speech, social relations and morality. However, every human infant is stringently guarded by either law or social norms of morality which prescribe a wide range of rights and liberties including the right to heritage, support and protection. It proves that the factors of rationality, speech and moral status are not substantial for the recognition of rights. I take the liberty to agree with those thinkers who regard animals as sentient beings which are capable to feel both pleasure and pain. Moreover, it might be appropriate to acknowledge that animals have been inhabiting the Earth since ancient times. They have lived long before the establishment of human civilization. Nevertheless, human beings frequently appeal to the theory of natural rights while asserting their rights and liberties. This notwithstanding, it should be conceded that animals as the original inhabitants of our planet are also considerably related to the principles of natural law. In the final analysis, it is possible to draw a conclusion that animals do have rights which correspond with their interests.