Deontology and Animals

A (strong) deontological animal ethic ultimately aims at the abolition of nonhuman animal use and exploitation in agriculture, entertainment, science and medical research, the fur industry, and so forth. The aim is not ‘‘reformation’’ of current practices or ‘‘reduced’’ suffering: the aim is complete abolition. All strong theories of animal rights agree with Regan’s anti-welfarist claim that “you don’t change unjust institutions by tiding them up,” since they believe that justice requires that we abolish the system that allows us to view animals as our resources, even the practices that treat nonhuman animals “humanely” (e.g., “humane farms” or “humane zoos”).

In advancing an animal rights theory aimed at abolition, Regan argues that we should afford negative rights to nonhuman animals while Francione is concerned with granting nonhuman animals legal rights, which essentially reduces to a ‘‘hands off’’ policy of noninterference. Through such a policy of noninterference, it is assumed that nonhuman animals will best be afforded full protection from human induced harm, suffering, and death.

reganTom Regan: the father of animal rights, presents a deontological argument on behalf of nonhuman animals in his influential book The Case for Animal Rights. He argues that all subjects-of-a-life (which include all mammals over the age of 1) are beings with inherent value (well, this is at least a sufficient condition for having inherent value) and are entitled to respectful treatment. He begins by endorsing the widespread belief that all human beings have inherent value. Then he asks: what is it about human beings that entitles each one to be treated as if they have inherent worth? It is not rationality, because not all human beings are rational (such as infants and the severely cognitively impaired). Rather, he argues that the reason why we treat all human beings as if they have inherent worth is because they are experiencing subjects-of-a-life. Thus, he argues that ALL subjects-of-a-life must have inherent worth. Since some nonhuman animals are subjects-of-a-life, he concludes that they must have inherent worth. Regan thus describes his theory of animal rights as a logical extension of a human rights ethic: he accepts the claim that all humans have rights, while acknowledging that if this is so, nonhuman animals who are subjects-of-a-life must also have rights. The principle of respect, which guides how we should interact with beings who have inherent worth, i.e. subjects-of-a-life, demands that we not treat beings with inherent value as mere receptacles, i.e. instruments for human well being. This then entails that we should not eat animals, perform biomedical research on them, use them for entertainment, use them for education, use them for clothing, use them in biotechnology, and so forth. You can read a short article which summarizes his rights theory here. Books: The Case for Animal Rights, Empty cages, Defending Animal Rights, The Animal Rights Debat (with Cohen), Animal Rights, Human Wrongs: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy. Click here to watch an influential speech by Regan, where he so eloquently and concisely describes his theory and responds to the common objection to the philosophy of animal rights. This is, without a doubt, the most inspiring 8 minute video on animal rights.

francioneGary Francione: also presents a deontological defense of animal rights, yet he grounds moral consideration in sentience, rather than “subject-of-a-life.” His position demands for the abolition of all nonhuman animal (sentient beings) use. Francione is known for staunchly opposing any welfare tactics, which he claims are counter productive to the animal liberation movement. Encouraging the public to feel good about exploiting animals “nicely” just perpetuates the unjustified use of nonhuman animals. If we continue to see animals as tools, even when using them nicely, we impede the path to justice for nonhuman animals.Books include: Animals, Property, and the Law, Introduction to Animal Rights: your child or the dog?, The Animal Rights debate (with Garner)

coreyCorey Lee Wrenn is a sociologist animal rights scholar specializing in social movement theory, gender, and abolitionist theory. Wrenn’s position is built on the work of Gary Francione, David Nibert, and Tom Regan. She argues that animal rights can only be achieved through an intersectional, anti-capitalist, secular, vegan-centric and abolitionist approach, one that relies on education and moral suasion. In addition to her emphasis on feminist theory, Wrenn’s work differs from Francione primarily in her focus on the role of capitalism in aggravating speciesism. According to Wrenn, abolishing speciesism will require the deconstruction of the prevailing mode of economic production that has normalized the exploitation of animals and other vulnerable groups. Importantly, this position includes a strong critique of the non-profit system, which she argues is an extension of capitalist exploitation that nullifies important radical social change efforts. She also argues that single-issue campaigning, perhaps one of the more popular tactics, is ineffectual and foundational to the capitalist co-optation of social movement organizations. She also advocates for secular advocacy, positing that spiritually-based theories and tactics undermine arguments for species-egalitarianism by reinforcing anthropocentrism instead of advocating that other animals deserve justice in their own right as sentient persons. Her book, titled A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory is forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan (2015). Her available publications include The Abolitionist Approach: Critical Comparisons and Challenges within the Animal Rights Movements, A Critique of Single-issue Campaigning and the Importance of Comprehensive Abolitionist Vegan Advocacy , and Applying Social Movement Theory to Nonhuman Rights Mobilization and the Importance of Faction Hierarchies.

Gary Steiner: presents a view similar to Francione’s. His central claim is that nonhumansteiner animals have a moral status comparable to that of human beings because they have rich subjective lives that matter to them. As he puts it, nonhuman animals and human beings are morally equivelant. Furthermore, if a being has moral status, it has rights, such as a right not to be killed and eaten for food and used in a variety of other ways to satisfy human desires. Books include: Animals and the Moral Community, Animals and the Limits of Postmodernism, and Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents.

Mary Anne Warren: presents a “weak” version of animal rights as opposed to a “stongwarren version” like Regan and Francione’s theory. Her view is that nonhuman animals do have some rights, but these rights are weaker in strength than the rights of actual persons (she calls this a “sliding scale” of moral status and rights). So, we do have duties to nonhuman animals, but these duties are weaker than our duties to persons. Ultimately, the duties we have to a being will depend on the being’s capacities for sentience and mental activity. So for Warren, there are degrees of moral status which entails that there are different degrees of rights (weaker and stronger). Her famous book which explains her “weak version” of animal rights is Moral Status: Obligations to Persons and Other Living Things. You can read her short response to Regan’s account of rights here.

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