Do Animals Have Rights?

byVizi Andrei4mo17th Oct 201815 comments


[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.