Animal Rights must certainly be one of the most important issues in applied ethics. I know I once argued here, about a year ago, from Peter Singerâ€™s utilitarian ethical stance on animal rights, but Iâ€™ve changed my mind from which normative theory I ought to ascribe to. So, Iâ€™ve become a deontologist, and here is how deontology can be applied to animal rights. (I donâ€™t think I am simply changing my beliefs to better suit my same position on animal rights, that meat eating and animal testing is immoral. Instead I have made my decision based on the reason that utilitarianism does not look at inherent â€œrightsâ€ so much as it does feelings and consequences.)
Tom Regan, a deontologist, believes just like Peter Singer that animals should not be subject to animal husbandry. But in order to produce aggregate happiness, it may be acceptable for the utilitarian to sacrifice individual rights. For instance the utilitarian may view animal testing in science to be moral in some circumstances, those instances in which testing might bring about a cure to some ailment. For Tom Reganâ€™s deontological position in animal â€œRightsâ€ (I emphasize rights with a capital R) the suffering of the animals is not why we should avoid eating their flesh, but instead because they have what Regan calls, â€œInherent Value.â€
Obviously, inherent value is the idea that animals are valuable in themselves, and should be treated as an end, not a means to whatever goals can be useful. The reason? Animals are what Regan calls, â€œSubjects of a Life.â€ All humans are subjects of a life, as are animals. The reason all beings are subjects of a life, and have individual welfare, is because as Regan places it in his book â€˜The Case for Animal Rights,â€™ â€œWe want and prefer things, believe and feel things, recall and expect things. And all these dimensions of our livesâ€¦our continued existence until our untimely death-all make a difference to the quality of our life as lived, as experienced, by us as individuals.â€ Animals have a â€œrightâ€ to these experiences, and it is immoral to deny them those rights.
The most considerable objections seem to come from contractarian ethical views that, because animals are not members of our society, we can use them. This is blatant speciesism and is easily refuted by a simple analogy: The mentally ill and retarded cannot participate in a social contract, but most would agree that eating or using them for brute labor would have disastrous moral implications. Even Rawlsian contractarianism (where no one knows who the contractors are) can easily fail on the situation where contractors make moral errors. Morality is not democratic in the sense that the moral reality is not only what is decided by a majority of moral agents.
Animal husbandry is one of the great injustices in an age of science, where reason can prove that animals have the same rights to happiness and life as humans.