In this essay I will argue why all humans and animals alike should have their rights recognized by the law, however, in order to do this I believe it necessary to dissect the question, going over each of the topics it involves individually. I will begin providing some insight into the basics of jurisprudence and law, and its relationship to morality, since this is a vital part of law, and the rights of those deprived from freedom. The second part will revolve around rights in disabled people, prisoners and animals, these groups being the main source of debate on whether or not their rights should be acknowledged.
Jurisprudence is the philosophical study of law. It aims to answer questions such as what is law and seeks to examine the role and necessity of law. Law’s relation to morality has been debated ever since Jurisprudence itself came to be, and it seems as though it is destined to remain as one of the great philosophical debates. The question of the ‘common good’ though is slightly more specific than that of just morality, and obviously will require a definition of the common good itself. The idea of a common good is usually associated with Utilitarianism, and as is always attractive with this school of thought, their definition is relatively straightforward. They would simply say that the common good provides the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people. But as we shall see later, this has its own intricacies too.
No discussion of Utilitarianism could be complete without first recognizing the contribution of Bentham in drawing together threads of utility theory into one cogent argument and popularizing it. One of his first and most influential works was the Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation in which he first expressed in detail the principle of utility, or the greatest happiness principle. In his own words, Bentham stated that ‘Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. It is for them alone to point out what we ought to do, as well as to determine what we shall do.’
So what Bentham is saying here is that pleasure, and specifically the avoidance of pain, is the driving factor behind all human action. This is how he entirely dismissed the theories of natural law that had come before him and had been popular in the deeply religious Europe of the age, in fact once rather pleasantly referring to it as ‘nonsense upon stilts’.
In formulating his theory in this way, what it essentially becomes is a measure of which action creates the greatest happiness, and that being the moral thing to do. This tends to reduce morality to something that is really rather easy to grasp, and has been widely commented that it is the ease of understanding that allowed Utilitarian theory to so easy garner attention of support. The relevance to the common good is pleasingly simple also, when essentially that is what the greatest happiness theory is.
Immanuel Kant criticized this hedonistic principle of utility through his belief that morality cannot be achieved through mere anthropology alone, and requires some metaphysical reason. While his metaphysics were different to those of his predecessors, he still argued that what is popular is not necessarily right. In essence then, what is in the common good is not always moral. Of course, Kant would likely concede that what is for the common good has a strong relationship to law in that a majority of the time what is for the common good will be the moral ideal, and thus should be law. However this is not an absolute and therefore should not be used as a principle upon which to base moral reasoning.
Kant’s slightly more realistic view, and seemingly more intuitive idea that morality and happiness are separate, would be closer to the approach that modern western democracies generally seem to take. Whilst the nature of politics is to try and remain as populist as possible, many governments make decisions that run contrary to the wishes of the people. So if we follow Kant’s theories and more away from Bentham, then we would begin to look at the common good as more of an element of law rather than central to law itself. According to Utilitarians, the common good is morality, and therefore the common good should be law, whereas Kant takes a more complex view of morality and thereby removes the immediate jump from common will to legislation. In a large number of cases in practice, the common good will inevitably have a very strong influence on legislation as morality always influences law making. The real difference between the two is the extent and more specifically the necessity of the common good in law making.
Mill also dealt with a significant criticism of using the pleasure principle as a moral compass which was the somewhat circular element of Hedonism. If pleasure is all that governs us then essentially all we are interested in is the self and not the common good. Mill decided that it is possible to completely dismiss the Hedonistic argument by saying that Utilitarianism is interested in the common good, the greatest happiness, and so if an individual values their own pleasure as greater than another’s then they are justified in being ignored. Of course, you could argue he is contradicting himself here, as he has just stated that some pleasures are greater than others.
The common good then is necessarily intertwined with law, like a pilot in a ship. Whilst they are certainly distinct things, their influence on each other is certain. Laws made without the common good in mind, or contrary to the common good will most often be ignored or even actively resisted. It is this passive influence on law making that the common good will always have, particularly in a democracy.
Pulling all of this together, it is always depends on the features of the society to strike out a complete structural theory which concurrent with the contemporary law, as the society is to be ever developing and changing, just like the law. The law seems one sided and does not favor every individual in the community but we cannot afford to please everyone and it is long accepted that “the majority rules” so that there is no anarchy by the minority. This is what the law is about and thus, there is no real equality.
Now as far as human rights go, I will focus on the rights of prisoners and disabled people, since these are the greatest subjects of debate in society. The most important characteristics of rights are universality. Human rights should apply regardless of who a person is, where a person is born or the jurisdiction within which he/she wishes to exercise them.
Human rights and their implementation, practice and protection are a benchmark of a truly developed, civilized and democratic society. In a democracy people enjoy the maximum number of human rights. But rights and duties go together. The human rights have their corresponding human duties. They are two aspects of a same coin. Human rights pre-suppose a rule of law where all the citizens follow a code of conduct and behavior for the good of all irrespective of caste, creed, religion, sex, social status, region etc. It is the sense of duty, tolerance, mutual participation that lends meaning and sense to the rights. Rights have their existence on the principle of live and let live.
For example, my right to speech and expression involves my duty to all others to enjoy the same of freedom of speech and expression. Human rights and human duties are inextricably inter-linked and interdependent. My rights become maintained between the two. Whenever there is an imbalance, there is violence of human rights leading to disturbance and chaos. Rights cannot survive without their corresponding obligations and duties.
As for disabled people, I believe them to be an important part of our society, and should be treated and respected as everyone else, given that adaptability is a fundamental part of our evolution and survival. Our ability as a species to be group-minded, altruistic and willing to care for our members less able to care for themselves has been a big advantage in our evolution and social construction. This might not even benefit me in my lifetime, but is good for the group as a whole, for the greater good previously discussed. Obviously we as humans fail every day in extending this type altruism as far as we should, but we’re light years ahead of almost all other species in this respect and it has led to a lot of our success.
It’s important to note that it’s almost impossible for someone to actually be worse in every possible scenario. Think of color blindness. It’s a disability, the person cannot see color properly. But it’s not always a detriment. We’ve seen now that the color blind can see camouflage much more easily than a color sighted person. Autism, in some cases means a great increase in intelligence at the cost of the ability to adapt to change. Homosexuality although obviously not a disability is certainly a blow to the ability to reproduce, however in a hunter gatherer society a gay man can be trusted to protect the women without fear he’ll sleep with them. Blind people develop improved hearing, victims of leg injury end up with a stronger upper body, clumsy people are more durable on account of getting injured on a daily basis, obese people survive better in the cold, psychopaths can make totally objective opinions, the young are more likely to look at unconventional solutions, I could go on forever, but I’ll end it here. The point is this: There is no such thing as a disability, only a difference of ideal conditions. The more “disabled” we have the more adaptable we are, and the better a chance that humanity as a whole can live on.
In the case of prisoners there are many arguments both for and against the application of the death penalty. Many people in favor of the death penalty would argue that it serves as a strong deterrent to potential recipients of such a punishment and therefore helps maintain a safer society. While numerous such arguments exist on both sides, I will be discussing why the death penalty is morally, ethically and fundamentally wrong.
One of the biggest ethical problems associated with the use of capital punishment is its irreversibility. Death penalty, unlike conventional punishments is absolutely final. When a person, innocent of his charges is awarded the death penalty and after he/she is executed, there is no going back if advances in medical/forensic technology provide solid evidence in favor of the condemned’s innocence.
A death penalty advocate would argue that once a condemned person is deprived of their life, they are also stripped of the ability to harm or detriment the society further. If a person is deemed to pose threat to society, life in prison also guarantees no future crimes; and in some cases, is even more psychologically effective than the death penalty. Many would argue that life in prison would cost the tax-payer more than if the death penalty was carried out. Why should the tax-payer waste valuable resources in prolonging the life of an individual if he or she harbors naught but unfavorable wishes against them? But as it turns out, executions cost almost four times as much. An average lifer would cost somewhere around $500,000 to the government, while an execution can cost as much as $2 million.
The application of the death penalty can often have a completely reverse effect among potential lawbreakers-it creates martyrs. Criminals are usually associated with a negative connotation in society. Most people are repulsed by the unconscionable, vile act they commit and are tremendously sympathetic for the victims of heinous crimes such as rape, murder etc. However, sometimes the death penalty can shift popular sympathy aside from the victims of the crime and to the criminals themselves. The 2005 execution of former gang leader “Tookie” Williams, said to have founded the notorious gang of the ‘crips’, which has an extensive history of assault, robbery and murder. This man was convicted with overwhelming evidence of the murder of four persons, some of whom he shot and mocked obscenely. A remorseless man, never one to apologize to the victims of afflicted families was, after being executed, idolized and sympathized by the public with events such as Candlelight vigils, websites like savetookie.org, protests and a media circus ensued trying to prevent the execution– which took place 26 years after the crimes were committed. This is just one of many cases, which make a mockery of the evil crimes, such degenerates commit.
Given the overwhelming amount of arguments against death penalty, one can easily see that there is little purpose to it other than vengeance. Yet, looking at the number of nations still applying this barbaric and archaic form of punishment, it is hard not to see that our society has sunk to a level so low, that vengeance is acceptable to most. Attempting to defeat violence with violence would merely catalyze the proliferation of circumstances, the subsistence of which we claim we are trying to terminate, within our actions and inside our minds. If only humanity made a collective effort in finding out if we can end the problem instead of delving in delusions of believing that murder is the route to salvation. Such a route to peace does not necessarily have to be paved with blood and that peace bought with the price of murder is naught but an illusion peace, beneath which lies the silence of death.
With everything else out of the way we are left with animal rights to give an end to this work. One undisputed facts is that animals existed and inhabited the planet before humans did and humans have been dependent on animals for thousands of years. Animals have played a very vital part in our history. While animals have been a great resource, a steady supply of food and clothing and even security, our treatment towards them has become nothing short of appalling.
Humans have an obligation to the society in a certain manor and this determines how they behave. From a young age, people are taught how to behave and act in a certain way and animal neglect and cruelty goes against the basic principles we are taught as children. Their ability to suffer and feel pain gives them a right not to be subjected to cruel and painful experiences and deaths. Let us use our intelligence as humans not to put them in such situations. Since they cannot talk to protect themselves, it is our duty as humans to stand up for their rights as animals are living things just like humans. We are caretakers of the planet and all the creatures in it and so we should take care of the animals by treating them with decency and this can only be done by advocating for their rights.
To conclude, it is established that animals, prisoners and disabled people alike should have all of their rights recognized and respected by the law, both animals and disabled persons are an essential part of society, and humanity would be far worse without them, as for prisoners, their time spent incarcerated should be a time for rehabilitation, not punishment, so that they can form a part of society and we can all build towards a better tomorrow.
– Bentham. The Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789) Ch I, p. 1.
– Harrison. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Oxford, 1995, pp. 85-88.
– Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2003) Ecosystems and Well-being: A Framework for Assessment. Washington DC: Island Press, p. 142.
– John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism (1863), Ch 2.
– Jurisprudence, Peter Halstead (2005)
– Utilitariansim, John Stuart Mill (1863)
– Common Good, Michael Kraus
– Mill: Culture and the satisfied pig, Jorn Bramann
– The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Harrison (1995)
– Cauthan, Kenneth. Capital Punishment. (2004)
– Department of Justice. Capital Punishment Statistics. (1988)
– Patterson, Aaron. Amnesty.org. (1998)
– Capital punishment and deterrence: Examining the effect of executions on murder in Texas. Crime and Deliquency 1999: 481-493.
Sheppard, Joanna. Capital Punishment and Deterrence of Crime. (2004