Pragmatic Approaches

Certain animal ethicists, even those who identify as “animal rights theorists,” argue that it is too utopian to expect that nonhuman animals will be afforded the full moral protection that they deserve, given our current socioeconomic and cultural context. Their claim is that we need to take into account our social reality and acknowledge the so-called fact that our society is not ready to grant moral rights to animals. As a result, some animal rights theorists, such as Bernard Rollin, argue that “we must look to the best approximation of these ideas that can be actualized in our current sociocultural context” (Rollin 2006, 177). What this means is that even if reason tells us that nonhuman animals have moral rights, including the right to life and the right not to be used as mere resources, society is not, by any means, ready for such a strong argument in defense of nonhuman animals. Thus, in order to make positive change on behalf of the animals, pragmatics like Rollin argue that we should aim for “incremental change,” such as by promoting laws that advocate for the welfare of nonhuman animals, rather than advocating for arguments and policies that seek to altogether abolish the use of nonhuman animals.

Bernard RollinBernard Rollin: Bernard Rollin identifies as an animal rights theorist. According to him, nonhuman animals have, at the very least, the following basic right: “the right to be dealt with or considered as moral objects by any person who has moral principles, regardless of what those moral principles may be” (Rollin 2006, 110). In addition, he argues that nonhuman animals possess the right to have their telos protected. According to Rollin, “the notion of rights insures that certain aspects of your individual interests, fundamental to your telos, cannot be violated” (Rollin 2006, 154). Thus, perhaps the most important component of granting rights to individuals is protecting the “essential features of their telos” (Rollin 2006, 154). While Rollin is sympathetic to idea that an “ideal” theory of animal rights would entail abolitionism, he maintains that this is not a position that our society is, by any means, ready to accept. Since ought implies can, and he argues that we can’t obtain an abolitionist worldview anytime soon, Rollin focuses on providing arguments and promoting policies that will grant animals both moral and legal protection in regard to their welfare and promotion of their telos.