Title

In Defense of an Animal’s Right to Life

Date of Award

2006

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Philosophy, Applied

First Advisor

Raymond Frey

Abstract

In this dissertation, my primary aim is to defend the idea that animals have a basic moral right to life, such that we have a strong duty to refrain from killing them. More specifically, I argue that animals’ right to life is equal in strength to humans’ right to life, such that our duty not to kill animals is just as strong as our duty not to kill humans. An implication of this right is that we are required to cease killing animals for food, material, and purposes of scientific experimentation. I approach my thesis by examining two main objections to the view that animals have an equal right to life. The first objection contends that animals do not have a right to life because they do not have an interest to live. According to this objection, animals have no interest to live either (1) because having interests requires having desires and animals cannot have desires, or (2) because even if animals can have desires and interests, they do not have specifically an interest to live. In response, I argue, first, that many animals are in fact capable of having desires. Second, I argue that many animals do have specifically an interest to live. The second objection contends that animals do not have an equal right to life because life has less value for animals than humans. According to this objection, life has greater value for humans than animals because human life is richer than animal life, and this is the case because only humans possess traits such as autonomy, personhood, or rational agency. In response to this objection, I concede that it is plausible to think that life typically has greater value for humans than animals. However, I argue that having an equal right to life does not require that life has equal value for a being but rather just that the value of life for a being meets a certain threshold. I aim to show that the value of life for many animals meets this threshold.