Volume 18, Issue 3, Fall 1996
Animal Rights and Human Needs
The idea that animal rights can be married to environmental ethics is still a minority opinion. The land ethic of Aldo Leopold, as interpreted by J. Baird Callicott, remains fundamentally at odds with the ascription of substantial rights to (nonhuman) animals. Similarly, Laura Westra’s notion of “respectful hostility,” which attempts to reconcile a holistic environmental ethic with “respect” for animals, has no place for animal rights.In this paper, I argue that only by ascribing rights to sentient animals can an environmental ethic avoid an unacceptable degree of anthropocentrism because only a rights-based environmental ethic can prohibit humans from significantly interfering with sentient animals when human vital needs are not at stake. A rights view that permits significant interference when it is required for the satisfaction of human vital needs avoids problems that otherwise plague a rights view. The “vital-needs rights view” reconciles the rights of animals with the satisfaction of human vital needs—including the vital need to have a flourishing natural environment—suggesting a possible alliance between animal rights and deep ecology and revealing the connections among vital needs, capitalism, and environmental degradation.