Animals, Morality, and Marginal Cases

My recent post on animal rights prompted some interesting discussions regarding the moral status of nonhuman animals.

John Humphreys offered some thoughtful responses to my presentation of the argument in favour of extending the right not to be property to sentient animals, and attempted a moral defence of using animals for our food, clothing, and entertainment. I shall address his arguments here.

Drawing on the work of Gary Francione, I presented the example of a man torturing a stray dog for pleasure. I argued that as our use of animals for food, clothing, and entertainment—practices that involve inflicting horrific suffering—cannot be considered ‘necessary’ in any way, our choices to eat animals, wear them, and exhibit them for our enjoyment are morally inconsistent with our supposed belief that animals should not be subject to ‘unnecessary suffering’.

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Rights for Animals?

Most people dismiss the notion that animals have moral rights as absurd. But should we be so quick to ridicule the idea?

In his influential book Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog?, Gary Francione argues convincingly that our moral intuitions about animals logically require that they should have one right: the right not to be property. As a basis for this argument, he presents the following imaginary scenario:

Walking down the street one day, you encounter a man blowtorching the leg of a stray dog. Distressed at the pain being inflicted on the dog, you ask the man why he is torturing the animal. He replies that he enjoys inflicting pain on dogs and derives great pleasure from the experience.

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