Do Animals Have Rights?

[Re­gard this ar­ti­cle as a draft; un­finished piece of writ­ing]

I’m not writ­ing this ar­ti­cle par­tic­u­larly be­cause I seek to provide some an­swers – but be­cause I seek to get some.

I re­cently came across a rea­son­ably plau­si­ble – at least seem­ingly – take which trans­par­ently sug­gests that an­i­mals do not have rights. Jor­dan Peter­son, an ap­par­ently in­fa­mous Cana­dian thinker, clini­cal psy­chol­o­gist and a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Toronto, ex­pressed it. I find it worth con­sid­er­ing. Let’s have a look at it (I para­phrased it).

An­i­mals do not have rights. Hu­man be­ings have rights. Rights are not “in­side” or part of a per­son. They are part of the com­plex agree­ments that make up civ­i­lized so­ciety. Or, in other words, they rep­re­sent a story which ed­u­cated hu­man be­ings choose to be­lieve in or­der to co­op­er­ate flex­ibly and in large num­bers. They (or we) act upon this story as though it were a re­al­ity – be­cause it mas­sively comes in handy.
My right to free­dom, for ex­am­ple, is your obli­ga­tion to let me speak and act with a min­i­mum of in­terfer­ence. Thus, each of my rights is your obli­ga­tion. And each of your rights is, si­mul­ta­neously, my obli­ga­tion.
An­i­mals can­not shoulder an obli­ga­tion. Thus, they can­not par­ti­ci­pate in the com­plex so­cial con­tract that struc­tures rights.
This does not mean that we should treat them any old way. But it does mean that the proper treat­ment of an­i­mals is not pred­i­cated upon their “rights.”
This also ex­plains why you don’t have a “right” to med­i­cal care. Some­one else has to provide it. If you have a right to it, then the provider, who has no choice but to provide it, is no more than a slave. Thus, if we had to give an­i­mals rights – this would re­sult in us be­ing their slaves.

Why Does This Is­sue Even Mat­ter?!

In or­der to be able to hope that hu­man­ity can make progress to­wards pro­tect­ing an­i­mals, I be­lieve it may be (per­haps im­mensely) effi­cient to reach a con­sen­sus when it comes to what gen­eral path we should take in or­der to try to do so. And, by de­cid­ing to be­stow rights upon them – both legally and so­cially speak­ing – we au­to­mat­i­cally choose a path. By choos­ing this path, things will change – and it may be am­bigu­ous whether for the bet­ter.

Peter­son es­sen­tially ar­gues that if we give an­i­mals rights this would cause con­tra­dic­tion when it comes to what the con­cept of “rights” means. The­o­ret­i­cally speak­ing, I tend to agree with him. But, would this con­tra­dic­tion ac­tu­ally come to life and thus have any bale­ful con­se­quences in prac­tice? Or is it only and merely a the­o­ret­i­cal and so­phis­ti­cated truth? In­deed, the­o­ret­i­cally, by offer­ing rights to an­i­mals, this will re­sult in us be­ing their slaves. But, cru­cially, I don’t see how this can af­fect us in a nega­tive way in prac­tice since an­i­mals are not even aware that we are their “slaves”. They can­not de­ploy a power which they don’t even un­der­stand and are un­con­scious of.

I will con­clude vaguely, by sus­tain­ing that nei­ther am I sure that by giv­ing an­i­mals rights this would ren­der us their slaves; nor that by do­ing so we will choose the best path to­wards pro­tect­ing them bet­ter.

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