Weighing Animal Lives : A Critical Assessment of Justification and Prioritization in Animal-Rights Theories

Abstract: The project underlying this dissertation aims at analyzing three pro-animal-rights theories, evaluating the theories, and outlining an alternative theoretical account of animal rights. The analytical categories are justification and function of animal rights, the definition of the right holder, and the resolution approach to rights conflict. The categories are applied to a naturalist, a theocentric, and a contractarian approach to defend animal rights. The evaluation is substantiated by the assumption that rights are meant to protect less powerful beings against more powerful aggressors. The constructive segment is an investigation into what extent identified disadvantages of the theories can be avoided by outlining a new model for animal rights.The analyses and evaluation suggest that all three theories are at risk of contradicting the proper function of rights-based theories. Tom Regan’s naturalist account of animal rights includes a logical possibility to sacrifice less capable beings for the sake of more capable beings. Andrew Linzey’s theocentric case for animal rights may sometimes mean that vulnerable human persons should be sacrificed for more powerful non-human beings. Mark Rowlands’ outlined contractarian model, further reconstructed in this work, fails to provide a way to resolve rights conflicts, making the function of rights inapplicable to conflicts.In conclusion, it is suggested that defining the right holder as a self-preservative being can be supported by, at least, the contractarian rationale. That would also conform to the proper function of rights-based theories. It is also suggested that this means that rights conflicts should be resolved by a voluntary sacrifice of the most powerful being. Practical circumstances should be created where such voluntarity is both genuine and rationally possible.