Before we as a society can decide whether animals have rights or not, we need to keep an open mind. Evolution of life is at least 25 million years old, and from the beginning right to the present day humans have fought for the survival against other species and have evolved to such an extent that they have been taken as the most superior of all living beings. Both Cohen and Williams value human life. They feel if the betterment of humanity is wanted then use of animals has to be accepted. Animals like human beings do suffer but being a lower species they have a tendency to be used by humans. As superiority does not signify cruelty, therfore both the authors value animal life too and are against the misuse of animals. The critics against the use of animals argue about the "rights" of animals. To analyze this, one has to first correctly understand the use of the term "rights" and see how absurd they are on this issue.
What does the term "rights" mean? According to Cohen, "a right is a claim, or potential claim, that one party may exercise against another... To comprehend any genuine right fully, one must know who holds the right, against whom it is held, and to what it is a right" (865). Only those who have the capacity to make moral claims against one another can talk about defending rights. Human beings have rights because each one of them has consciously accepted the other's rights and thus will always be self-legislative and morally autonomous. Applying this definition of rights to animals, one can understand why they have been denied rights. As Cohen believes, "animals lack the capacity for free moral judgment" (866). They are incapable of exercising and responding to moral claims and can never recognize the possible conflicts between what is in their own interest and what is just. "Only in a community of beings capable of self restricting moral judgments can the concept of a right be correctly invoked" (Cohen: 866). From this strict and surely logical definition of rights, one can clearly see that a human, a species that has rights, is surely more valuable than animals. And when animals are used in research, for the betterment of human health, one does not violate their rights because they have none to violate.
Ingrid Newkirk, the co-director of PETA (People for the Ethnical Treatment of Animals) once made a remark - "When it comes to having a nervous system and the ability to feel pain, hunger and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy" (Williams: 63). This again comes down to comparing humans and animals with "equal consideration of interests" (Williams: 64) and rights. Williams has supported Cohen's definition of rights by clearing what kind of rights do we mean exactly? "It's not the right to vote. Not the right to a good education and not the right of a doggy not to be nutted at the vet's" (64). It's the rights or moral claims that humans can make and animals cannot, makes us superior to them. And being superior it is logically reasonable to consider that human life is more valuable than a pig or rat's life. If we treat both of them equally then we are forced to conclude "that neither humans nor rodents possess rights or that rodents possess all the rights that human possess" (Cohen: 867). "Refusing to recognize the moral differences among species is a sure path to calamity," as Cohen continues (868). This calamity will be the use of humans in ways animals are being used and the 25 million years of evolution of human life and values will surely go to dust.
Some critics, the animal people, argue that if rights require being able to make moral claims, to grasp and apply laws, then many humans who are retarded, disabled and plainly lack the capacity to make them, must be without. In our society this is highly untrue, hence the claim encourages the animal people prove that animals, like the retarded, do indeed have rights and values equal to that of a human. In the words of Cohen - this argument "mistakenly...
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