This is Terra — she lives with her father, but I still consider her my cat… because she loves me best 🙂 — just kidding, kinda…
The question of the day in class is whether or not animals have rights. The sides are pretty simple —
In favor of animals having rights are folks like Regan (the philosopher, not the president) and Singer. The general idea is that if we deny that animals have rights, then we are also denying that some human beings have them too. Add to that the observation that animals feel pain (especially important to Singer, the utilitarian) and you have a conclusion that if people have rights, so do animals. This is an individualistic conception of rights — rights are things due to individual beings because of characteristics of those beings. So speciesm –the idea that it is wrong to do something to a member of one species that you would not do to a member of another species — is wrong because it treats individual beings in different ways… just like sexism and racism.
Folks in opposition to animals having rights generally think that rights are granted to groups of beings — so if you’re a member of the group that has rights, you have them too. As long as it isn’t the case that members of the group are getting similar treatment, then all is good. So, sexism and racism are wrong because it’s a case of treating similar beings differently within the group. Speciesm (Singer’s term) is permissible because the differences between groups permit different treatment of beings in one group as opposed to another.
I think that, in terms of animals, a kind of contractualism is correct. When I adopt a pet, I make a commitment to that pet to take care of it’s basic and complex needs. I make sure the pet has food and water. I also make sure the pet gets affection and discipline — generally leading to a happy life. I don’t make this commitment to all animals because I can’t provide those things for all animals — nobody can, not even the folks on Animal Horders… So, I do what I can to make sure my animals have a good life — even if it means they go to live with their father.
I do think that animals have something less than rights — some kind of intrinsic value, so that the default is not to harm them without a good reason. On the other hand, if there is a good reason to harm them, then it’s permissible to do so.