The Hierarchy of Animal Rights

This tree of animal kingdoms helps further classify animals, but can also determine which get rights and which do not according to Van de Veer

This tree of animal kingdoms helps further classify animals, but can also determine which get rights and which do not according to Van de Veer

Animal rights issues, as previously discussed, tend to ignite arguments about the types of animals that should or should not receive rights. Donald VanDeVeer takes offense with the opinions of animal rights advocates Paul Singer and Tom Regan. He feels that Singer and Regan are incorrect about their reasoning for animal rights and that they go too far in acknowledging the moral standing of nonhuman animals. For him, it is not practical to decide ethical conflicts and choose between human and nonhuman interests. Van de Veer does concede that speciesism exists but breaks it down into several varying levels of beliefs and applications.

Van de Veer takes offense to the ideas that Singer espouses such as the mere willingness to discuss serious moral questionings of the differences between animals and humans. The argument that he makes is that Singer’s strong admonitions of animal cruelty such as being a vegetarian as opposed to eating meat or avoiding other practices that would kill animals is not practical. Van de Veer argues that there are still questions to be answered despite these conclusions such as the conflicts in interest that one would have with killing an animals in order to feed humans or vice versa. Basically, where does one draw the line? He feels that devising an adequate theoretical basis for the legitimate treatment of animals is no easy task and cannot be done simply by extending existing principles.

Would babies and dogs have the same rights in Singer's mind? Van de Veer finds that possibility irreconcilable

Would babies and dogs have the same rights in Singer’s mind? Van de Veer finds that possibility irreconcilable

In the case of animal suffering, Van de Veer relates the idea that animals do clearly have an interest in not suffering and do feel pain, but it is simply too difficult to determine if it is in the best interest or not that an animal suffers, for example, to have a painful infection cauterized, or other procedures done. He feels that we must advance the current reconsideration of our treatment of animals by identifying and assessing principles that provide a basis to weigh interests. In addition, he recognizes Singer’s definition of speciesism but also acknowledges that the definition is much more complex than simply weighing human interests over that of animals.

To Van de Veer there are three forms of speciesism and two non-speciesist views that make up the belief systems. One speciesist view is Radical Speciesism, or the view that it is morally permissible to treat animals in any fashion one chooses. Gruesomely, he describes an example of a radical speciesist as someone who takes no offense at baking live puppies in an oven for the perverse pleasure of it. Those who adhere to Radical Speciesism also adhere to the fact that animals cannot suffer, for if they did than radical speciesism would be mistaken. Van de Veer outright rejects this view and so do various Animal Cruelty laws across the world.  Additional fines are brought on a person if the animal was an endangered species.

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Extreme Speciesism, or the view that when there is a conflict of interests between an animal and a human being it is morally permissible to subordinate the animal for the sake of promoting even a peripheral interest of a human being. Someone who adhered to this thought process would deny people the right to bake puppies unless it gave some benefit to human interest. The idea that animals suffer is acknowledged in this case but Van de Veer also rejects this view because the moral permissibility of recreational acts such as animal-trained circus acts is questionable at best.

Elephants trained by circuses are often abused, but an Extreme Speciesist would allow such treatment since it brings entertainment to humans.

Elephants trained by circuses are often abused, but an Extreme Speciesist would allow such treatment since it brings entertainment to humans.

Interest Speciesism is the view that when there is a conflict of interests between an animal and a human being it is morally permissible that an animal interest is subordinated in order to promote a like interest of a human being but one may not subordinate a basic interest of an animal for the sake of promoting a peripheral human interest. In the case of discussing what is or is not right for humans to do, puppy baking is simply out of the question and causing animals to suffer in general is rarely justified. The big question that arises out of this speciesism is, do we explicitly differentiate between the varying levels of species such as the differences between oysters and chimpanzees? There is something to be said for basing rights on something other than if an animal has an observed interest.

Animals used for medical testing are still used as means to an end, but this is permissible in Interest Speciesism

Animals used for medical testing are still used as means to an end, but this is permissible in Interest Speciesism

Then there is Two-Factor Egalitarianism which holds that when there is an interspecies conflict of interests between two beings, A and B, it is morally permissible to 1. sacrifice the interest of A to promote a like interest of B, 2. to sacrifice a basic interest of A to promote a serious interest of B is A substantially lacks significant psychological capacities and 3. to sacrifice the peripheral interest to promote the more basic interest if the beings are similar with respect to psychological capacity. One example of the moral weight of this is to look at two different scenarios of killing either seals in an arctic wasteland or killing veal calves in an affluent region-in this case the veal calves should not be killed because the overall utility is far less since there are other food options. On the same token scientific research is justified as done to animals. On the whole this way of thinking reveals that generalizations are unreasonable when considering the morality of causing pain to animals.

An aboriginal person hunting for survival would be allowed to continue hunting for food in Two-Factor Egalitarianism

An aboriginal person hunting for survival would be allowed to continue hunting for food in Two-Factor Egalitarianism

There is also Species Egalitarianism which, in contrast to the other views is explicitly anti-speciesist. Those who hold this belief think that when there is a conflict of interests between an animal and a human being it is morally permissible to subordinate the more peripheral to the more basic interest and not otherwise. In this view human interests are denied the outweighing of animal interests simply because they are held by humans-it is not where you are evolutionarily but fundamentally where your interest is.

Equal rights for animals are pursued by those who believe in Egalitarianism

Equal rights for animals are pursued by those who believe in Egalitarianism

Van de Veer also disagrees with Tom Regan’s point of view although it tends to be more egalitarian, and maintains that the trait of sentience that is possessed by all humans but not all animals should be a trait that will give humans more moral relevancy over animals. The view of Two Factor Egalitarianism is one such view that Van de Veer prefers, which assumes that the level of importance to each being and the psychological capacities of the parties involved are relevant. He argues that the loss of life of a human, to a human, is much more costly due to the intricate psychological complexities of the being as opposed to animals. He argues that Singer’s view on speciesism is wrong because it is based on the ideas of species membership is inherently incorrect. The capacity to live a satisfying life is, for beings such as humans, much more culpable than animals have.

Overall, I see that Van de Veer is trying to correct the basic problems with Singer and Regan’s views, but I see less of his own view in Two Factor Egalitarianism and more of a rejection of their views. Van de Veer admittedly has a more rounded and practical version of animal rights but he still remains somewhat contradictory in his reasoning. For one, he claims that all humans are sentient when that simply is not true as proven by cases such as mentally retarded persons or comatose patients. This lack of mental acuity is never addressed by Van de Veer. I would say that, in comparison to Regan’s view, Van de Veer’s view is much more tame and less problematic in its implementation but it certainly leaves something to be desired.

A vision of a future city that integrates Van de Veer's ethics would have green architecture and an environment that respects the needs of animals

A vision of a future city that integrates Van de Veer’s ethics would have green architecture and an environment that respects the needs of animals

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