Answering Arguments Against Animal Rights
Part VII -- Argument Six: Animal rights advocates put animals ahead of people
Argument Six: Animal rights activists put animals ahead of people

Argument six: animal rights advocates put animals ahead of people.
Argument Six: Animal rights activists put animals ahead of people.

This argument states that those who advocate the rights of non-human animals want these rights to take precedence over human rights. To answer this charge we need to understand that in moral philosophy there are...
Natural Rights vs. Luxury Rights

...natural rights, and there are what I will call luxury rights.

A natural right would be, for instance, my right to breathe the air.

A luxury right would be your right to smoke.

Ignoring environmental and health concerns for the moment, we'll say that you have every right to smoke.

What if, one rainy day, we find ourselves waiting for the same bus, and sharing a bus shelter.
A smoker filling a bus shelter with smoke as another man gasps for air.

When you light up your cigarette we have a conflict between your right to smoke and my right to breathe oxygen. Your filling the shelter with smoke is not just a petty annoyance; one thousand non-smokers die from inhaling second-hand smoke every week!

How do we resolve such conflicts of rights? It is clear that a luxury right (such as smoking) must always yield when it conflicts with a natural right (such as breathing non-poisoned air.)

The conflict between luxury rights and natural rights is what occurs most often in the case of human rights versus non-human rights.
A model wearing a fur coat

For instance, the right to wear a fur coat is clearly a luxury right: fur coats are not necessities.
A fox caught in a leg-hold trap

Now consider the many animals whose lives were taken to make the fur coat.
A lynx caught in a leg-hold trap

Clearly, the right to live one's life and not be...
A fox caught in a leg-hold trap

...imprisoned or murdered, is a natural right. When luxury rights conflict with natural rights, the luxury right must yield.
A small animal caught in a leg-hold trap

It is in this sense that we do put animal's rights ahead of people's rights. But it is the same sense in which we put one person's rights ahead of another's. Namely: only where a luxury right conflicts with a natural right.

Natural Rights vs. Luxury Rights

To advocate the rights of non-human animals, then, is not to deny rights to people. It is simply to be consistent in giving natural rights precedence over luxury rights.
Contents   Prev   Next: Part VIII -- Argument Six (continued)
This site is concerned with: ethics, compassion, empathy, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Watchtower, poetry, philosophy, atheism, and animal rights.