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
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
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
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
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.
Assessment (2003) Ecosystems and Well-being: A Framework for Assessment.
Washington DC: Island Press, p. 142.
John Stuart Mill,
Utilitarianism (1863), Ch 2.
Stuart Mill (1863)
Common Good, Michael
Mill: Culture and the
satisfied pig, Jorn Bramann
The Oxford Companion to
Philosophy, Harrison (1995)
Capital Punishment. (2004)
Department of Justice.
Capital Punishment Statistics. (1988)
Capital punishment and
deterrence: Examining the effect of executions on murder in Texas. Crime and
Deliquency 1999: 481-493.
Capital Punishment and Deterrence of Crime. (2004)