Právny portál určený širokej odbornej verejnosti

Online časopis

The Universality of Human Rights: A Reflection on Human and Non-Human Animal Similarities

FLORIAN, T.: The Universality of Human Rights: A Reflection on Human and Non-Human Animal Similarities. Právny obzor, 106, 2023, special issue, pp. 21-40.

The Universality of Human Rights: A Reflection on Human and Non-Human Animal Similarities. While natural rights are typically understood as applying only to humans, there are in fact no suitable criteria which justify such an assumption. Indeed, arguments from marginal cases show that characteristics which are considered innately human are not in fact shared by all humans and can even be identified in some non-human animals. However, if we try to dismiss the issue by implying that the fact of being human is itself a sufficient criterion, the problem of evolutionary theory then arises, with the gradual evolution of the human species suggesting that several different human species coexisted at some point in the past. In order to ensure the universality of human rights, we must draw the line not only in the present but also in the past, and in this context it would seem logical to extend natural rights to non-human animals. However, regardless of the criteria which we apply to this issue, it remains problematic to justify why the ones we have chosen are relevant to the existence of natural rights.

Keywords: human rights, animal rights, universality, non-human animals, natural rights, argument from marginal cases, speciesism

People have a tendency to take the superiority of our species for granted and show little inclination to consider the matter further. In line with contemporary thinking on human rights, they may acknowledge that we as humans possess some natural rights, but generally we do not see these rights as applying to the other creatures inhabiting our planet. Increasingly, however, this conventional wisdom is being challenged, and many are advocating for a greater sense of compassion for other living creatures. Recent decades have also seen some quite fundamental debates in moral philosophy that have helped to transform how we as humans relate to non-human animals, and these discussions have also contributed to changes in our perception of the concept of human rights in its moral sense. on the basis of these considerations, we may reach the conclusion that it seems logically inconsistent to accept the existence of the natural rights of humans but to refuse to extend these rights to non-human animals.
Law and Morality
The issue of the justification of universal human rights can be seen largely as an applied problem of the justification of moral values. We can, of course, accept human rights not because they are morally right but because they are enshrined in legal orders, but this approach renders these rights as positive rights, thereby negating their universality.
In my opinion, there is no reason to discuss the content of human rights unless we can identify a firm basis on which to justify their existence.
Without these grounds, our reasoning on the wider issue would be similar to that of theologians attempting to interpret God's will despite the fact that the very existence of God himself is still open to question. The universality of human rights means that their justification must be extra-legal, for the declaration of their existence in a legally binding regulation is not dispositive in this regard. I take the same approach to the question of animal rights; I do not intend to discuss which specific natural rights non-human animals possess, because that is an afterthought. The first step, in my opinion, is the actual justification for why they should have any natural rights at all.
I am aware of the potential inconsistency between the content of certain human rights; for example, some see sexual freedom as a human right, while others believe that this is incompatible with their right for the protection of Christian values. For this reason, the criticism of the concept of human rights offered here is not based on ideological positions. The main focus is on the justification of the concept of human rights, with the topic of their actual content remaining a corollary concern.
At the same time, I am also conscious that even the concept of human rights itself has many different interpretations. Therefore, when I talk about human rights, I am not referring to "positivised" human rights but to human rights in a moral sense - the universal rights that all people possess (according to their proponents) by virtue of being human.
In the article I term
human rights proponents
as those who believe in the existence of those very rights, but this does not include the proponents of a pragmatic approach to human rights, such as Daniel Dennett
or Tomas Sobek,
who, while acknowledging that a belief in human rights can be useful in some respects, still do not believe in their existence.
Before entering into the main argument, I would also like to clarify two more concepts which will be discussed in the article. The first is that of the
non-human animal
, which will be understood as all animals except humans. The second term is natural rights, which includes the universal rights of all creatures; the moral considerations of these rights are dependent on whether they are extended to humans (
human rights
), non-human animals (
animal rights
) or other entities.
Pain as a Decisive Criterion
Consideration and Treatment
We should perhaps start by determining the criteria which are to be considered crucial for inclusion in moral considerations. Two approaches could be distinguished here. Firstly, the capacity to feel pain is typically seen as a guiding principle. If a being can feel pain, then it can be included in moral considerations. This line of thinking can be termed hedonistic,
and the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham was an important proponent of the approach. Bentham argued that it was not important whether a being can think or speak; what is important is whether it can suffer.
Bentham saw a clear equivalence between the suffering of animals and humans because all creatures can experience pain. However, the second approach to the issue suggests that other criteria must be fulfilled. The libertarian thinker murray Rothbard, who famously said that he would recognise the rights of animals as soon as they claimed them, can be considered as a proponent of this approach.
The French philosopher René Descartes came up with the idea of the animal as a machine (
bete machine
) that lacks the capacity for language and cannot think.
According to some interpretations of Descartes' philosophy, Descartes concluded that non-human animals were not self-aware and did not feel anything.
Although some contemporary scholars have questioned this interpretation of Descartes' thought,
the content of the so-called "monstrous thesis" remains a matter of debate.
The Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer notes that if we examine the issue consistently, we cannot be sure of the capacity to feel pain, even in humans.
This thinking is based on the fact that the only pain we can realistically feel is our own, not that of others.
Nonetheless, we can infer that other people feel pain, too; they share the same nervous system as our own which presumably produces similar feelings under similar stimuli.
According to Singer, this same approach can be extended to determine whether or non-human animals can feel pain,
given the likelihood that their nervous systems react similarly to ours when they are in situations that would be painful for us.
At the same time, we are aware that animals are not mere automata taught to react artificially to specific stimuli but rather living beings who have been endowed by nature with these qualities.
Singer's philosophy is based on utilitarianism which advocates, among other aspects, the idea that everyone
is equally valued.
like Bentham, Singer recognises that non-human animals also count, but this validity has its limits; for example, Singer is not concerned with non-human animals having the right to vote in parliament. He differentiations between extending
to non-human animals. every being is different, and non-human animals cannot be granted the right to vote, for example, because they are incapable of doing so.
It is, therefore, impossible to give non-human animals equal
. However, this does not prevent us from granting them equal
in that we validate the suffering of one being the same as that of another.
Singer refers to the prejudicial attitude of preferring members of one's own species over others as speciesism, drawing parallels between this line of thinking and that of racism.
He notes that the objections that people may have to racism can also be applied to discrimination on the basis of species.
No Consideration for Invertebrates
Even if we accept pain as the main criterion, there is still no scientific consensus over which animals can feel pain and which cannot. Perhaps the greatest ambiguity is found in the case of invertebrates. The ability of some flies to continue their normal activities after suffering multiple injuries is difficult to comprehend from the point of view of our perception of pain.
As a result, many scientists who study insects concede that we do not yet know whether insects are capable of feeling pain.
Animals used for scientific purposes are protected by Directive 2010/63/eu of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2010 "on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes". The adoption of this Directive is justified, inter alia, by the fact that "new scientific knowledge is available in respect of factors influencing animal welfare as well as the capacity of animals to sense and express pain, suffering, distress and lasting harm".
vertebrate animals, including mammalian fetuses from the last third of their normal development, self-feeding larval forms and crustaceans all fall within the scope of this Directive.
However, cephalopods are also included as "there is scientific evidence of their ability to experience pain, suffering, distress and lasting harm".
other categories of animals are not protected under this Directive. Non-human primates then have an advantage over other vertebrates due to their genetic similarity to humans and their highly developed social skills.
Another piece of legislation protecting non-human animals is Council Directive 98/58/eC of 20 July 1998 concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes, but invertebrates are also excluded from the scope.
Singer accepts that it is very difficult to draw a dividing line between different species, but he considers the ability to experience pain and pleasure to be the most important.
If a being is demonstrably incapable of perceiving either of these, then they should not be considered morally relevant to us.
Singer makes an exception in the case of beings whose capacity to suffer is questionable - here, he is more inclined to assume the likelihood of their pain for the sake of argument.
However, if we adopt a more consistent approach, we might suggest that the capacity to experience pain is in fact questionable for all animals. We judge pain from an anthropocentric perspective, assuming that similarities in the processes that take place in the bodies of humans and non-human animals can indicate which animals feel pain and which do not. However, might it not be the case that pain is manifested in some non-human animals through an entirely different mechanism than that found in our own bodies? In such a case, we will not be able to make a valid comparison. ultimately, the issue will depend upon the nature of our default state - that is, whether we want to prove or disprove the ability to feel pain.
The Rights of Cats and Dogs
The distinction between animals capable and incapable of feeling pain is not the only criterion which has been considered in this issue. The most common pets across the world are cats and dogs, and we can therefore assume that people will display a greater degree of empathy for these two species.
The different perception which humans have towards cats and dogs in comparison to other species is also reflected in Regulation (eC) No 1523/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2007 banning the placing on the market and the import to, or export from, the Community of cat and dog fur and products containing such fur. The regulation is defended on the grounds that European union citizens consider cats and dogs to be
pet animals
and that the use of their fur or products derived from it is deemed unacceptable.
It is also interesting to note that the lawmakers sought to ensure that only fur from
cat and dog species would fall within the scope of this regulation. However, according to the preamble to the regulation, it is not scientifically possible to disting
Pre zobrazenie článku nemáte dostatočné oprávnenia.

Odomknite si prístup k odbornému obsahu na portáli.
Prístup k obsahu portálu majú len registrovaní používatelia portálu. Pokiaľ ste už zaregistrovaný, stačí sa prihlásiť.

Ak ešte nemáte prístup k obsahu portálu, využite 10-dňovú demo licenciu zdarma (stačí sa zaregistrovať).