Moral Rights and Human Culture

Ethical Perspectives 13 (4):603-620 (2006)
In this paper I argue that there is no moral justification for the conviction that rights should be reserved to humans. In particular, I reject James Griffin’s view on the moral relevance of the cultural dimension of humanity. Drawing from the original notion of individual right introduced in the Middle Ages and the development of this notion in the eighteenth century, I emphasise that the practice of according rights is justified by the interest in safeguarding the powers of reason and autonomy that some individuals can exercise. Since we are in no position to rule out that non-humans can exercise these capacities, I conclude that rights should not be reserved to humans. This will lead to a reformulation of the reasons why so-called ‘marginal’ humans and non-human animals can be granted some basic rights. Being human is neither necessary nor sufficient for holding rights. All individuals, human or non-human, who can exercise reason and autonomy to some extent can be accorded basic rights in virtue of their having morally relevant preferences.
Keywords moral rights  nonhuman animals  preferences
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DOI 10.2143/EP.13.4.2018711
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