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Utilitarianism Vs Rights-Based Approach in Animal Rights

Utilitarianism Vs Rights-Based Approach in Animal Rights

The issue of animal rights has been a trending and controversial topic in recent times. While most people understand that animals feel pain and pleasure, it is difficult to convince the entirety of humanity to stop using animals for food, labor, laboratory tests, sport and as pets Proponents of animal rights argue that animals have to be accorded some basic rights, such as right to life and some degree of liberty. Several theories have been put forward to try to establish a philosophical basis for ethical treatment of animals, including utilitarianism and a rights-based approach. This essay holds the position that the rights-based strategy has more weight than utilitarianism in regards to animal rights.

Utilitarianism is an aggregative approach that seeks to maximize the total satisfaction of the interests of everyone. This approach put more focus on the aggregate than on the individual, and therefore might lead to some individuals’ interests being sacrificed for the better good[ CITATION Reg86 l 1033 ]. Approaching animal rights using utilitarianism is bound to fall short as human interests such as economic benefits, resources and knowledge gained from exploitation of animals will lead to the animals’ rights being sacrificed[ CITATION Reg86 l 1033 ]. Using this line of thought, Matheny says it is okay to kill animals for food if survival depends on it[ CITATION Gav03 l 1033 ].

The rights-based approach is grounded on the premise that entities with a moral standing are granted rights without difference to utility, dignity or duty. Under this approach, animals have intrinsic rights and a direct moral standing. Animals, therefore, have basic rights such as right to life, liberty and a measure of happiness[ CITATION Sin74 l 1033 ]. This precludes other interests such as human interests from encroaching on animal rights. This approach is challenged by the notion that humans have a higher moral standing than nonhuman animals. Regan refutes this challenge by arguing that intrinsic value is equal and cannot be quantified[ CITATION Reg86 l 1033 ].


Matheny, G. (2003). Least Harm: A Defense of Vegetarianism from Steven Davis’s Omnivorous Proposal. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 505-511.

Regan, T. (1986). The case for animal rights. Advances in Animal Welfare Science, 179-189.

Singer, P. (1974). All Animals are Equal. Philosophic Exchange 5.1, 6.