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Mary Anne Warren's 'The Weak Animal Rights Position'

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1412 words Published: 20th Aug 2021

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Mary Anne Warren proposes an animal rights argument known as the weak animal rights position. First, I will be describing Warren’s description of the positions and the arguments in support of it. Next, I will propose the objection to Warren’s position that using sentience as the distinguishing characteristic promotes detrimental environmental policy. Then, I will argue that sentient animals act as an umbrella species that protect the environment. Finally, I will describe why my objection to Warren’s argument is the stronger argument. In this paper, I will argue that Warren’s weak animal rights position is incorrect and that bad environmental policy can result from her argument.

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In the paper “Difficulties with the Strong Animal Rights Position,” Mary Anne Warren argues for an animal rights position called the weak animal rights position. This animal rights position states that all sentient animals have rights; however, the rights of those nonhuman animals are not as strong as those of humans. First, I will describe what Warren means by sentient. Sentient animals means all animals who are “capable of have experiences, including experiences of pleasure or satisfaction and pain, suffering, or frustration” (Warren, p. 164). This can be simplified to all animals that feel pain. Warren’s animal rights position includes a wide range of animals. The position also gives people a method to deal with differences between nonhuman animals rights strength. For example, should mice be given the same rights as an elephant? The weak animal rights position says that the rights of animals from different species can have levels of strength. To justify this claim Warren states that the strength of animal’s right is based off of the animal’s mental sophistication. The more mentally sophisticated an animal is the greater their ability to suffer is, thus the stronger its rights are. It would still be wrong to kill mice without a justifiable reason, but it would not be a wrong as killing an elephant without a justifiable reason (Warren, p166).

I will now explain what Warren means by nonhuman animal rights not being a strong as human rights. The weak animal rights position says that the rights given to sentient nonhuman animals can be violated at times when it would not be acceptable to violate human rights. Warren argues that the morally relevant feature that separates humans from nonhuman is that humans are capable of listening to reason. Through reasoned arguments humans chose between actions (Warren, p. 169). Therefore, the rights of animals can be overridden in situations where human rights could not be. The example that is used by Warren is killing rodent to protect our food or to prevent the spread of disease. If humans were spreading disease or stealing from our food supply society would not find it morally acceptable to kill the humans like they would with mice. The weak animal rights position says that killing the mice, in the most humane way possible, is a morally acceptable action if they are causing harm to humans (Warren, p. 167).

Another example used by Warren is culling deer in over populated areas where there are no longer natural predators due to human interference. Through Warren’s animal rights position it is morally acceptable to kill individuals in a way that causes the least amount of suffering if the environment needs protecting so that the animals can live a natural lives. With Warren’s example reintroduction of natural predators is necessary, but hunting can be substituted in the beginning to decrease the population size. The weak animal rights position says that we have an obligation not only to the animal’s lives, but also to protect the environment so that the animals can live a natural life. Therefore, if predators are a natural part of an animal’s life, the individual rights of that animal can be overridden and predation can be reintroduced in areas where it has been removed from (Warren, p. 168). These strategies would not be acceptable with humans, but because nonhuman animals cannot reason, their rights can be overridden in each situation.

My objection to Warrant’s argument is that by only give rights to sentient animals it does not produce good environmental policies.

My objection to Warren’s argument is that only including sentient animals, as having rights, does not guarantee good environmental policies. I argue that by only finding it morally wrong to harm animals that feel pain other important organism such as plants are downgraded and dismissed. By only giving rights to sentient animals a wide range of animals are left without rights. Imagine that there is an ecosystem where there are only non-sentient organisms like spiders, plants, and microorganisms. According to the weak animal rights position it would morally acceptable to build a hospital here that would completely abolish the entire ecosystem. There are no sentient animals in the ecosystem, so there would not be any suffering. However, eliminating an entire ecosystem is not a good environmental policy. Other organisms that do not feel pain according to Warren’s view of sentient do not need to be taken into account. Non-sentient animals or organism still can have important value to the world as a whole. The weak animal rights position does not guarantee good environmental policy. Another example would be if there was some toxin in an environment that only affected non-sentient organisms and animals but caused sentient animals in the area to stop reproducing. The sentient animals do not suffer because of the toxin but the species will eventually go extinct from not reproducing (Katie McShane, 11-15-10). The weak animal rights position does not find this morally unacceptable. Because the sentient animals are not suffering from the toxin their rights are not being violated. However, this is a terrible environmental policy.

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In my objection to Warren’s argument I argue that the weak animal rights position does not guarantee good environment policy. However, by giving sentient animals rights and thus protection they are an umbrella species and the entire ecosystem is protected. The degradation of an ecosystem that contains sentient animals affects the lives, health, pleasure, and pain. If the effects are negative to sentient animals then it is likely that whatever the cause of the environmental degradation would be ratified. For example, if sentient animals will suffer greatly because of a building be built then it would not be morally justifiable to eliminate or degrade an entire ecosystem. The sentient animals act as a protector of the environment in which they are located. The likeliness that there is an environment that does not have sentient animals is unlikely, so ecosystems would be protected because of the sentient animals involved.

The conclusion drawn from this paper is that Warren’s argument is that using sentient as a distinguishing characteristic to determine what animals have rights creates bad environmental policy. Ecosystems should have value even if they do not include sentient animals as defined by Warren. Ecosystems as a whole should not be discarded. Although there are very few ecosystems that do not include sentient animals, a situation could arise where sentient animals rights are not a factor in an environmental situation. By only allowing sentient animals to have rights ecosystems can be harmed when sentient animals are not involved. As seen with the examples in my objection, entire ecosystems could be destroyed and it would be morally acceptable. Non-sentient organism can have value even though they do not feel pain. Animal rights arguments should not yield poor environmental policies. Animals and ecosystems need to be supported through animal rights, which are not accomplished by Warren’s weak animal rights position.

Warren argues for an animal rights position that only sentient animals have rights and that nonhuman animal rights are not as strong a human rights. My objection to Warren’s argument shows that only including sentient animals as having rights results in bad environmental policy. My reply to my objection claimed that sentient animals act an umbrella species that protects the environment. The strongest argument was found in my objection. Warren’s sentient characteristic does not guarantee good environmental policy decisions.


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