By Tom Regan
From: ANIMAL RIGHTS AND HUMAN OBLIGATIONS
Edited by Tom Regan and Peter Singer. Second edition
Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1989
ISBN # 0-13-036864-4
How to proceed? We begin by asking how the moral status of animals has
been understood by thinkers who deny that animals have rights. Then we test
the mettle of their ideas by seeing how wellthey stand up under the heat of
fair criticism. If we start our thinking in this way we soon find that some
people believe that we have no duties directly to animals, that we owe nothing
to them that we can do nothing that wrongs them. Rather we can do wrong
acts that involve animals and so we have duties regarding them though none
to them. Such views may be called indirect duty views. By wayof illustration
-- suppose your neighbor kicks your dog. Then your neighbor has done
something wrong, but not to your dog. The wrong that has been done is a
wrong to you. After all it is wrong to upset people and your neighbor's kicking
your dog upsets you so you are the one who is wronged not your dog Or again
-- by kicking your dog your neighbor damages your property. And since it is
wrongto damage another person's property, your neighbor has done
something wrong -- to you, of course, not to your dog. Your neighbor no more
wrongs your dog than your car would be wronged if the windshield were
smashed. Your neighbor's duties involving your dog are indirect duties to you.
More generally, all of our duties regarding animals are indirect duties to one
another -- to humanity.
Howcould someone try to justify such a view? Someone might say that your
dog doesn't feel anything and so isn't hurt by your neighbor's kick, doesn't care
about the pain since none is felt, is as unaware of anything as is your
windshield. Someone might say this, but no rational person will, since, among
other considerations, such a view will commit anyone who holds it to the
position that nohuman beings feel pain either — that human beings also don't
care about what happens to them. A second possibility is that though both
humans and your dog are hurt when kicked, it is only human pain that matters.
But, again, no rational person can believe this. Pain is pain wherever it occurs.
If your neighbor's causing you pain is wrong because of the pain that is
caused, we cannot rationallyignore or dismiss the moral relevance of the pain
that your dog feels.
Philosophers who hold indirect duty views -- and many still do -- have come
to understand that they must avoid the two defects just noted: that is, both the
view that animals don't feel anything as well as the idea that only human pain
can be morally relevant. Among such thinkers the sort of view now favored is
one oranother form of what is called contractarianism.
Here, very crudely, is the root idea: morality consists of a set of rules that
individuals voluntarily agree to abide by, as we do when we sign a contract
(hence the name contractarianism). Those who understand and accept the
terms of the contract are covered directly; they have rights created and
recognized by, and protected in, the contract.And these contractors can also
have protection spelled out for others who, though they lack the ability to
understand morality and so cannot sign the contract themselves, are loved or
cherished by those who can. Thus young children, for example, are unable to
sign contracts and lack rights. But they are protected by the contract
nonetheless because of the sentimental interests of others, mostnotably their
parents. So we have, then, duties involving these children, duties regarding
them, but no duties to them. Our duties in their case are indirect duties to other
human beings, usually their parents.
As for animals, since they cannot understand contracts, they obviously Cannot
sign; and since they cannot sign, they have no rights. Like children, however,
some animals are the...