The debate concerning the rights of animals has mostly been confined to assertions of absolute moral value. Before Peter Singer, nearly all philosophers declared animals inherently devoid of rights on various grounds. Traditional religious thinkers emphasized the soullessness of "beasts" that makes them inferior to humans and therefore, free to be used by humans. Secular thinkers also excluded nonhuman animals from moral concern due to the animals' apparent lack of self-consciousness. When Singer began his defense of animals, he appealed to utilitarian arguments, in which the suffering of all beings, human or nonhuman is taken into account. I will take up a different line of argument in my defense of animal rights. Rather than attack the specific premises that "speciesists" employ in their arguments against the existence of rights of animals, I will attack the belief in moral absolutes that their arguments rest upon. Drawing upon evolutionary theory, which has eroded the foundation of such moral judgments and exposed them as evolutionary adaptations, I will apply Richard Richards' relational theory of value to the problem of animal rights.
[...] Serious discussion of animal rights is a relatively new philosophical endeavor, but so are the gruesome practices that have necessitated the discussion. Millions of animals are used in the U.S. for research each year, but factory farming is a vastly greater phenomenon. The methods of modern factory farms have been well documented in recent years. Besides the obvious act of killing that eventually takes place, great suffering is inflicted upon the animals before their death. Peter Singer explains the famous example of the plight of veal calves: Of the other animals, the condition of veal calves is perhaps worst of all, since these animals are so closely confined that they cannot even turn around or get up and lie down freely. [...]
[...] In addition, a value judgment relative to humans could be formulated, such as “torturing and killing factory farm animals is bad with respect to the psychological trauma of abusing one's related species for humans at a factory farm.” The arguments for factory farming appear trivial in comparison. The value judgment “eating meat from factory farms is good with respect to its taste for humans in all contexts” clearly does not carry the weight of the value judgment of factory farming relative to the factory farm animals. [...]
[...] Though values are relative to a subject, they are not entirely relativistic, for how something matters to a subject is an objective fact. Based upon Richards' relational theory of value, we can now reframe the animal rights debate. Concerning factory farming, Singer's utilitarian value that “pain is can be translated into “torturing and killing factory farm animals are bad with respect to their suffering and death for them at a factory farm.” This new relational translation maintains the foundation of the utilitarian argument, that the animals are relevant subjects with interests and values. [...]
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