Tom Regan, Case for Animal Rights



2.      Indirect duty view (e.g., anthropocentrism): We have no direct duties to nonhumans, only duties to other humans regarding nonhumans

         a.      Regan thinks this is a highly implausible view: Torturing an animal is not wrong simply (or mainly) because it upsets other humans, but rather because it harms the animals

         b.      Torturing animals wrongs the animals themselves

3.      Cruelty-kindness view: Our behavior toward animals is acceptable as long as we are kind and not cruel to them

         a.      But having a kind motive or failing to be cruel is no guarantee of right action

         b.      For example:

                   i.       The racist who is kind only to members of his own race

                   ii.      The lack of cruelty on the part of those who experiment on animals doesn't by itself show that their action are morally right or even permissible

4.       Utilitarian view (Singer):

         a.      (1) We should count animals' interests equally with identical human interests, and

         b.      (2) We should do those acts whose consequences maximize the balance of interest satisfaction (e.g., pleasure) minus frustration (e.g., pain)



6.      (1) Utilitarianism denies that individuals have value: it sees individuals merely as replaceable receptacles of value (i.e., pleasure)

7.      (2) For utilitarianism, any evil means can be justified (including one that disrespects individuals by violating their rights) if the end is sufficiently good (e.g., Killing Aunt Bee to help the orphans)



9.      Non-consequentialist (non-utilitarian): It is not the consequences of our acts that make them right or wrong (as utilitarianism claims), but the kind of acts

         a.       To determine if an act is right one must ask: Does it respect the individuals involved? Does it avoid violating their rights?

10.     Right acts are those that do not violate individual’s rights, that treat individuals with respect, and that do not use individuals as a MERE means to others ends

         a.      It is permissible to use others (as a means) as long as we do so with their consent or with their ends in mind

         b.      It is not permissible to use other’s while ignoring their wishes or what their ends are

11.     All individual "experiencing subjects of a life" have inherent value (have moral standing or intrinsic value, a type of value not reducible to use/instrumental value for others)

12.    Being an experiencing subject of a life is Regan's criterion of moral standing.

         a.      Note!: Being an experiencing subject of a life is not the same as simply being alive

         b.       Experiencing subject of a life: Is a conscious creature having a welfare that has importance to it; wants and prefers things, believes and feels things, recalls and expects things, has ends of its own, can be satisfied or frustrated; all these make a difference to the quality of the life as lived/experienced

         c.      Regan (like Singer) is a “sentio-centrist” in terms of moral standing.

         d.      Some animals are experiencing subjects of a life and thus have moral standing and inherent value for the same reasons that humans do

13.    How does being an experiencing subject of a life show that one possesses inherent value (moral standing)?

         a.      Because beings who care about their lives should not be treated as if the value of their lives were simply to benefit others

14.    All who have inherent value have it equally: Inherent value doesn't come in degrees

         a.      We don't think a retarded person has less inherent value than a genius

         b.       Inherent value is something we possess simply in virtue of being "experiencing subjects of a life"

15.    Inherent value is an unearned, not an earned respect

         a.      It is not given to us; we have it, whether it is acknowledged or not

         b.      Inherent value doesn't depend on race, sex, religion, nationality, talents, skills, intelligence, personality, being loved or admired, despised or loathed, useful or useless to society (or on species)

         c.      "Mother Teresa and the most unscrupulous car salesperson have the same inherent value"

16.    For Regan, having inherent value = possessing rights = it is wrong to treat an individual with inherent value as a mere resource or thing or instrument that exists for the sake of others' benefits

         a.      We act wrongly when we violate individual's rights by failing to respect their independent value and treat them as a mere means to our ends (as if they had purely instrumental value)

17.    Thus Regan's view handles his two objections to utilitarianism by

         a.      (1) Acknowledging that individuals have value themselves, and

         b.      (2) Absolutely prohibiting rights violations for the sake of achieving social goods

                   i.       For example, killing Aunt Bea to benefit charities is wrong because it violates her right not to be treated as a mere means to the ends of others



19.    Regan thinks one can't limit the rights view to humans only, because

         a.      The basis for rights is being an experiencing subject of a life and some animals are experiencing subjects of a life

         b.       Marginal Case Argument:

                   i.       Any reason one comes up with to limit rights to humans only will invariably and implausibly leave some humans (marginal cases like severely retarded humans) without rights

                   ii.      There are some psychologically sophisticated animals who are more intelligent, autonomous, social, responsible, able to communicate, etc. than are some humans

                   iii.     Thus if we are going to include all humans as having rights (and we should), then some animals will also have rights.

                   iv.     Thus, for whatever reason it is wrong to factory farm, hunt, and experiment on severely retarded humans also shows it is wrong to do these things to psychologically-sophisticated animals

20.    Rights view, unlike the utilitarian view (Singer), is absolutely prohibitionist

         a.      Utilitarians could allow using animals (or humans) in medical research, if the benefits were sufficiently great

         b.      The rights view categorically opposes and seeks to abolish animal experimentation, animal agriculture, hunting, etc.

         c.      Tidying up these institutions (by providing larger cages for animals, etc.) is not sufficient, because they treat animals as mere means to human ends which violates their rights and thus these practices should be abolished



22.     Regan ignores (Cohen's suggestion) that one might have moral standing without having rights (rights are a special kind of moral standing)

         a.      Regan denies and Cohen believes that there can be inequality within the community of those that have moral standing

23.    Can respectful use be harmful use?

         a.      Can't one be genuinely concerned with the welfare of animals for their own sake (and thus acknowledge that they have moral standing) and still use them for humans means (while acknowledging that their value is not totally reducible to their utility to us)?

         b.      The difference between treating a being as a means and treating it merely as a means

24.    Is Regan's view (like Singer’s) too narrow in it's focus only on subjects of a life having inherent value (note that subjects of a life are a tiny fraction of living beings)?


Study questions on Regan and Animal Rights


1.      What is the difference between a consequentialist moral theory like utilitarianism and a rights view like Regan’s? Which factors do they consider when determining if an action is right/wrong?

2.      State, explain, and evaluate Tom Regan's two criticisms of utilitarianism.

3.      What is Regan’s criterion of moral standing?

4.      What does Regan mean by “being a subject of a life?” Is a tree a subject of a life for Regan? Explain.

5.      What does Regan mean when he says all subjects of a life have "equal inherent value?" Does one earn such value by one's behavior?

6.      Do you think it makes sense for two beings to have different amounts of inherent value (moral standing)?

7.      What does it mean to treat a being as a means to one’s own ends? How is this different from treating another as a MERE means to one’s own ends?

8.      Can one treat an individual with respect and still use it in a harmful way?

9.      Explain the “marginal case argument” and how it is used in debates about our treatment of animals.

10.    Discuss the implications of Singer's utilitarianism and Regan's rights view on the practices of factory farming, animal experimentation, and hunting. How might the two disagree with each other? Which view (if either) gives greater protection to animals? Which view (if either) is more reasonable?

11.    How might an advocate of “environmental ethics”(specifically a biocentrist or ecocentrist) criticize both Singer’s and Regan’s views on moral standing (namely, sentio-centrism)?