Term Paper: Animal Rights in the Debate

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Animal Rights

In the debate over Animal Rights, the supporters argue that animals have rights because they are sentient beings that, in the most important ways, differ from humans only in degree, not in kind. On the other side, opponents argue that animals have no or little rights owing to their subordinate position in the overall scheme of things. In this paper, I will argue why nonhuman animals deserve to be treated with fairness, not because of animal rights advocates' arguments, but in spite of them.

Animal Rights Advocates' Arguments. Typically, animal rights advocates argue that all suffering is fundamentally bad, no matter who is suffering and that all pleasure is fundamentally good regardless of who is experiencing it. Further, the suffering of a human carries greater weight than does the suffering of a nonhuman for reasons such as the following:

In deciding between taking a human life or the life of a dog, we should spare the human because human will have greater awareness of his impending death than would a dog, and will suffer more as a consequence, the family and friends of the human will suffer more than those of the dog, should both be killed, it would be the human who had greater potential for future happiness.

Some advocates then state that if we had to choose between killing a dog and a grossly mentally defective human who had no family to miss him, it would make as much sense to spare the dog and kill the human as vice versa.

In syllogism form, the flow of one argument used by most animal rights advocates goes something like this:

Proposition 1: Suffering is fundamentally bad, while pleasure is fundamentally good, regardless of who is experiencing it.

Proposition 2: Subjecting animals to experimentation, or raising them for food causes egregious suffering.

Proposition 3: We could find alternatives to subjecting animals to experimentation or raising them for food.

Conclusion: Utilizing animals in experiments or raising them as food is fundamentally bad when alternatives exist or could be developed.

To support proposition 1, advocates introduce us to the idea of interests. Interests basically means getting our needs satisfied, while avoiding things that do not further getting our needs satisfied. This can be anything from getting food and water and avoiding injuries that would prevent us from getting food and water to getting pleasure and avoiding pain. When things work against our interests, we suffer in various ways. When they work toward our interests, then pleasure results.

To support proposition 2, advocates compare the similarity between nervous systems of human beings, mammals, and birds, claiming that because they are similar in complexity and scope, mammals and birds experience pain in much the same way we do.

To support Proposition 3, animal rights advocates supply the familiar statistic that it requires 21 pounds of vegetable protein to produce 1 pound of animal protein, say, in the form of beef. To further drive this point home, they remind us that replacing animal protein with soy or other forms of vegetable protein is more than adequate for human nutritional needs. Therefore, the argument goes, our preference for animal flesh is due to a desire to please our palettes rather than to any intrinsic nutritional requirements.

Consider the conundrum of building a power plant on one of two sites. One site requires more extensive (and expensive) foundations than the other, which, if chosen, will destroy "a favored breeding ground for thousands of wildfowl." We are then asked, "Should the presence of the wildfowl enter into the decision as to where to build? And if so, in what manner should it enter, and how heavily should it weigh?"

Advocates also propose that, in addition to thinking of animals as members of a species, we ought to consider the impact of our actions on individual animals. Speciesism is as immoral as is racism, and our ethical behavior ought better to be operationalized at the individual rather than group level as failing to do so has gotten us in trouble in the past.

Part II - Rebuttal. Regarding advocates' statistic about the quantity of vegetable protein required to produce a pound of animal protein, it is important to remember that this question is not salient for a species of animal that is primarily a predator. How much protein does the wildebeest consume to produce 1 pound of wildebeest protein for the lion that eats it? Further, does the lion enjoy eating a wildebeest more than would a human? If the answer is yes, then the lion deserves to eat the wildebeest. If the human, then the human deserves to eat the wildebeest. Or should we try to teach lions to appreciate a vegetarian diet rich in soy? In the last few years, serious questions have been raised about the wisdom of even including soy in human diets; for instance, its consumption has been shown to positively covary with the rate of dementia in human males.

Regarding advocates' claim that human preference for meat is a matter of pleasing our palettes, the same claim could be made for lions' preference for meat. It is natural for humans to prefer meat because predators prefer meat. Since humans have the physiological traits of predators, that must be what we are. Herbivores do not, as a rule, have canine teeth.

It is natural for humans to eat animal flesh for the same reasons that other predators eat it; only culture teaches us to prefer something else. It also follows from animal rights advocates' human/dog scenario that since humans enjoy eating animals more than the animals are able to appreciate the consequences of a sudden blow to the head, that our utility for a particular animal's flesh outweighs that particular animal's own utility for it.

Revisiting advocates' argument about saving wildfowl vs. saving money installing a power plant in any case where doing otherwise would cross public opinion, the firm will choose the more expensive site which represents only a higher start-up expense, not a recurring one. However, if the species of wildfowl is not endangered, there is no clear moral reason why the firm should choose the other site. In the unlikely event that the more expensive site being considered is a lifeless desert, building a power plant there will interrupt the lifecycle of some kind of local fauna. The scenario is not a sufficiently realistic one upon which to pose the moral dilemma thus posed.

In response to the claim that we should think of animals not as members of a group, we consider the impact of our actions on individual animals. Well, as a species ourselves, we seldom consider the impact of our actions on individual human beings, so applying such consideration to nonhuman creatures requires conducting ourselves with a higher degree of ethical purity towards nonhumans than we do toward each other. Another fallacy that evolves from this point-of-view is that if we consider the impact of our actions on a single blue whale to be as significant as the same impact on the entire species of blue whale, then we end up facing scenarios in which it is more ethical to allow an entire species to go extinct rather than do something to adversely impact a species that is more numerous and not endangered. In other words, if the total number of individual blue whales is 1,000, and the number of wildfowl put at risk by some human endeavor is 50,000, then even though that particular species of wildfowl consists of 11 million birds, we should prefer to choose to shift the focus of our endeavor such that it kills the "mere" 1,000 individual blue whales rather than the 50,000 crows. it's worse to kill 50,000 individuals than it is to kill 1,000, yes? Embracing such thinking… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Animal Rights in the Debate."  Essaytown.com.  December 13, 2004.  Accessed May 25, 2019.