Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics

By Paul W. Taylor | Go to book overview

FIVE
DO ANIMALS AND PLANTS
HAVE RIGHTS?

1. Legal Rights and Moral Rights

In setting out a theory of environmental ethics in the preceding chapters I did not claim that animals or plants have rights. This omission was deliberate. For reasons I am going to give in this chapter, I wanted to construct and defend a theory of environmental ethics that does not rely on the idea of rights.

The problem of whether animals and/or plants have rights involves two principal questions. The first is whether animals and plants are the sorts of things that can have rights. The second is how we might establish the truth of the proposition that they do (or do not) have rights, under the assumption that it is conceivable for them to have rights. Neither of these questions can be adequately dealt with until we have clarified what we mean when we talk about rights.

Generally speaking, to have a right is to have a legitimate claim or entitlement to something, the recognition of the legitimacy of that claim or entitlement being (morally or legally) required of others. For a moral right, the requirement of recognition is imposed by valid moral principles on all moral agents. For a legal right, it is imposed by a given system of law on all members of the legal community in question. Let us begin with the less controversial matter of legal rights.

-219-

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Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword to the 25Th Anniversary Edition ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • One - Environmental Ethics and Human Ethics 3
  • Two - The Attitude of Respect for Nature 59
  • Three - The Biocentric Outlook on Nature 99
  • Four - The Ethical System 169
  • Five - Do Animals and Plants Have Rights? 219
  • Six - Competing Claims and Priority Principles 256
  • Bibliography 315
  • Index 325
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