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Vol. 105 (June 2020)

Subject of a Death

Sherry Colb, C.S. Wong Professor of Law, Cornell Law School.

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1 Jun 2020

Tom Regan, a leading animal rights philosopher, stood firmly on the “rights” side of the “rights”/”welfare” divide in much of his writing. By contrast, a different philosopher, Peter Singer, has taken the position that individuals have no rights; the moral imperative is to maximize welfare along whatever dimension (hedonic, preference, etc.) is appropriate. In the second memorial lecture in Regan’s honor, reproduced here, along with questions and answers, as an Article, Colb argues that despite their many differences, Regan and Singer share something found in the writing of most animal protection advocates—the view that although animals are entitled to moral consideration, humans are entitled to much more than animals are. This Article asks why theorists so often feel the need to make this declaration and explains why it is destructive even when it seems relatively innocuous (such as when it appears in the context of an unrealistic hypothetical scenario). Colb proposes the substitution of sentience for both “subject of a life” (Regan’s formulation) and what Singer designates as the capacity to conceive of oneself over time. Sentience, the great equalizer among animals, is also the only relevant criterion when the rights or privileges in question revolve around the interest in being free from suffering and death.

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