© 2011, Lon Niedermayer


Regan’s essay makes an impassioned and reasonable argument that the problem with our use of non-human animals is not how cruelly or kindly we treat them, but that we use them at all. He examines various ethical positions on the treatment of animals and concludes that as living beings, animals have as much right to life as humans. His conclusion, however, is untenable as policy on two fronts. First, it is drastically counter to existing attitudes. Second, his argument rests on a particular notion of rights. David Hume’s “Is-Ought Gap” is relevant because, just as observable fact cannot by itself support normative principles, normative principles alone cannot translate into action. Attitudes toward – and obfuscating practices by – animal-using industries must change, but gradually or else risk rejection. Regan dismisses what he calls “contractarianism” in favour of egalitarian rights for animals, but evidence suggests otherwise. Policies and rights are effective only so long as they are acknowledged. Whatever rights animals deserve, they only receive the ones humans grant them. Changes in the treatment of animals will only come about only when and if enough people want them to – the goal is to somehow make them want to.

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