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Environmental Ethics

Volume 2, Issue 1, Spring 1980

Anthony J. Povilitis
Pages 67-71
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics19802110

On Assigning Rights to Animals and Nature

Watson argues that living entities do not have intrinsic or primary rights, such as the right to existence, unless they are capable of fulfilling reciprocal duties in a self-conscious manner. I suggest that (1) Watson’s “reciprocity framework” for rights and duties is excessively anthropocentric, (2) that it is founded on the incorrect assumption that the Golden Rule refers to mutual rather than individual duties, and (3) that Watson arbitrarily equates moral rights with primary rights. Since “intrinsic” rights are, in effect, assigned rights, the assignment of rights to a given entity is viewed as a function of its perceived value. Thus, in emphasizing differences between man and other living entities, Watson chooses Cartesian values in assigning rights. Conversely, the ecological and evolutionary relatedness of living things forms the basis for considering rights within the naturalist tradition.

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