Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dog owners: a special specie

Dog owners are a funny breed. They see human characteristics in their pets (I always wonder who is walking whom though). Some go so far as to award rights to animals. Peter Singer says in his book Animal Liberation (first published in 1975) that “there are obviously important differences between human and other animals, and these differences must give rise to some differences in the rights that each have.” Still, rights require a voice to express interests and complains, i.e. issues concerning justice. In modern times, rights also entail representation. Animals cannot represent themselves for they have no voice we can comprehend. So, we have to represent animals. The Party for the Animals has two seats in the lower house of the Dutch Parliament (the Parliament as an Orwellian animal farm...). Rights also entail duties (otherwise a right is merely a privilege), but what duty do animals have to us humans? There is another problem, Singers’ theory of animal rights is based on utilitarianism. Just as humans, animals can feel pleasure and pain (and the total sum of pleasure should be maximized), therefore, Singer argues, we are not allowed to discriminate certain species, which he calls ‘speciesism’. John Rawls, though, claims in A Theory of Justice (first published in 1971) that utilitarians do not take serious the distinction between separate individuals (or beings in Singer’s case). All separate persons are fused into one. The real danger that the gains of many can account for the losses of some others, or that the violation of liberty of a few can be made right by a greater satisfaction of the many. This can be seen in the example of vivisection, while Singer condemns it, he allows for exceptions if the benefits outweigh the harm done to animals. But that brings us back to rights…

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