Who has a right to life This question has been asked and answered by many philosophers throughout the years. In Death, Misfortune, and Species Inequality, Ruth Cigman ultimately suggests that animals cannot have a right to life because they are incapable of valuing life. Cigman provides several premises and examples that support her claim. This paper will aim to analyze and dismiss her assertion by bringing forth ideology from Singer’s argument from Marginal Cases.
Cigman argues that there is an important relationship between what a living being has a right to and what the living being in question is capable of caring about. More specifically, Cigman states, “A right to X entails the right to be protected from certain actions which will result in the misfortune, or possible misfortune, of not-X. A condition for being the subject of a right is therefore the capacity to be a subject of the corresponding misfortune.” Cigman’s argument relies on this concept of not necessarily a desire, but more so on the capacity to have a desire. For instance, to be the subject of the misfortune of death, one does not need to have the desire not to die. Instead, one must have the (mental) capacity to desire not to die. According to Cigman, when we view the right to life in terms of a capacity to have desires, one must deny this right to animals.
Cigman supports her claim that animals do not have a right to life by stating that animals do not possess categorical desires. Categorical desires, in terms of philosophy, are desires for things that one would what unconditionally (opposed to conditional desires, which are desires one would have for something, if some condition holds). Cigman refers to earlier work by Williams to show support of this claim. According to Cigman, Williams proposes that categorical desires not only presuppose being alive, but instead answers the question whether one wants to remain alive. For instance, if one has the desire to write a screenplay or have offspring, then that individual is susceptible to the misfortune of death. In other words, if an individual desires something, then this same individual also has a reason for resisting anything that excludes having that thing (i.e. death), which ultimately makes death a misfortune. According to Cigman, if animals were capable of having categorical desires, they would basically need to have the same conception of life and death as people do. That is, they must understand that death is final, death leaves behind no conscious agents, etc. The only way to have such an understanding of death is to also have related concepts such as long-term future possibilities, life as an object of value, etc. Since it seems that non-human animals are incapable of such cognitive processes, Cigman concludes that animals do not have a right to life.
Additionally, Cigman suggests that the capacity to have categorical desires is necessary for a creature to be a possible subject of the misfortune of death, and that non-human animals lack this capacity. For a being to be a possible subject of the misfortune of death, life itself must be an object of value for it. If life were not an object of value, then the right to life would be a right to be protected fr something which could not be perceived as a misfortune, which is nonsensical. Essentially, one must understand the misfortune of death for death to actually be a misfortune, and in turn, have a right to life.
Cigman’s view has been the topic of much debate and has led many philosophers to develop arguments against her ideology, mainly focusing on the fact that her philosophies are derived from speciesism ideology, for they dismiss the rights of non-human animals on what seems to be prejudice terms. One such philosopher is Peter Singer, who argues against Cigman’s status of animals with his Argument from Marginal Cases.
Singer is a consequentialist and a follower of sentientism. He argues that all beings have an equal consideration of interests and the one ” fundamental interest” that entitles a being to equal consideration is the capacity for suffering and/or enjoyment or happiness. Since most – if not all – animals possess the desire to not be harmed, then, according to Singer, these animals should receive equal treatment. In “Animal Liberation,” he asserts, “If a being suffers, there can be no justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration.” Singer’s arguments against speciesism are based on the principle of equal consideration of interests and that all animals have an interest in not being harmed. This interest, according to sentientism, should receive equal consideration when applied to animals as it does when applied to humans. It is from this logic that one is able to develop a sound argument against Cigman’s view.
Singer’s Argument for Marginal Cases aims to dismiss any theories that suggest that animals do not deserve the right to life. In Cigman’s logic, she claims that non-human animals cannot have a right to life because they are incapable of valuing life itself. However, when given a closer examination of this logic, one can deduce “loopholes” that leaves followers of Cigman’s view in a conundrum. If one must have the mental capacity to understand the value of life, finality of death, etc. in order to have rights, how does cognitively impaired people factor in? That is, there are many people in this world (the senile, newborns, vegetative patients) that are incapable of understanding the “value of life and death”, critical thinking, etc. If we give these subjects moral status (after all, they are human), then we must also attribute moral status to animals, for there is no difference between the two and their cognitive abilities.
Cigman’s argument seems unfair in the sense that she is assuming that animals are incapable of desiring not to die. Also, her ideology forces one to accept the notion that ‘non-human animals are incapable of understanding the value of life’ as truth. Though humans are talented in a myriad of things, we have yet to develop a sound way of determining animals’ perspective on the value of life. To say that animals do not understand the misfortune of death is simply ludicrous; we have no concrete proof of that claim. With that said, it is easier (and more practical) to accept Singer’s Argument from Marginal Cases. Moral status should be determined by one’s interest. Since one’s interest naturally includes prolonging life (opposed to death), all sentient beings (i.e. all animals) have a right to life. The Argument from Marginal Cases shows that for any criteria set (language, consciousness, interest, etc.) there will always be some human who is without these criteria, and therefor do not have a right to life. Since we generally believe that all humans have a right to life, it is difficult to accept this notion, making the Argument from Marginal