11 August 2008

M. P. Golding on Animal Rights

One aspect of the question of whether animals have rights may now be treated. If animals have rights, then these are welfare rather than option-rights. My pet turtle does not exercise, at his option, any rights over itself, things, or people. We can now see why some philosophers (who admit duties in respect of animals) have denied that animals have rights: such denials rest upon identifying or connecting, in an essential way, having rights with having option-rights. Some philosophers admit rights only for beings who are capable of choice, and this is reflected in definitions of 'rights' as 'ranges of action' or 'spheres of autonomy'. If this be pressed, one must also deny that the incapacitated and the senile have rights, and must be hesitant before admitting that children have rights. However, we do speak of the rights of such persons—their welfare-rights. They have a claim to some of the goods of life under the social ideal, although others must make claims for them, when necessary. Whether animals have welfare-rights depends upon the very perplexing question, which I shall not discuss, of their inclusion in the community and their relation to the social ideal. It may also be the case that their rights (if they have any) are, because of the nature of their interests, so insignificant in comparison with those of humans that they hardly deserve the appellation.

(M. P. Golding, "Towards a Theory of Human Rights," The Monist 52 [October 1968]: 521-49, at 545-6 [italics in original; footnotes omitted])

Note from KBJ: Is an animal (i.e., a nonhuman animal) the sort of being that can have rights? It depends on what a right is! Golding is pointing out that there are two conceptions of a right. One conception links rights to autonomy or self-governance (he calls these "option-rights"); the other links rights to welfare or well-being (he calls these "welfare-rights"). If no animal is autonomous, then no animal can have, and therefore no animal does have, an option-right. But it doesn't follow that no animal can have a welfare-right! Those of us who affirm that animals have rights are conceiving of rights as welfare-rights. Those who deny that animals have rights are conceiving of rights as option-rights. Both of us can be right! Indeed, I would argue that both of us are right.

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