© Society for Applied Philosophy, 2004
© Society for Applied Philosophy, 2004, Blackwell Publishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main
Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 21, No. 1, 2004
Carl Cohen’s ‘Kind’ Arguments
Animal Rights and
Carl Cohen’s arguments against animal rights are shown to be unsound. His
strategy entails that animals
rights, that humans
, the negations of those conclu-
sions, and other false and inconsistent implications. His main premise seems to imply that one
can fail all tests and assignments in a class and yet easily pass if one’s peers are passing and
that one can become a convicted criminal merely by setting foot in a prison. However, since his
moral principles imply that nearly all exploitive uses of animals are wrong anyway, foes of
animal rights are advised to seek philosophical consolations elsewhere. I note that some other
philosophers’ arguments are subject to similar objections.
Carl Cohen is one of the most prominent philosophical advocates of the view that non-
human sentient animals (hereafter, ‘animals’), do not, and cannot, have moral rights.
Many who enjoy and proﬁt from the inﬂiction of pain, suffering and death on animals,
especially those in the vivisection industry, strongly applaud his efforts at attempting to
defend the moral propriety of their outlook and deeds .
Any plausible argument against animal rights must provide an explanation why
humans with mental lives less sophisticated than animals’ mental lives have rights.
Very few are willing to argue that it would be (and, in historical cases, has been)
morally permissible to subject these humans to experiments that animals are subject to
(e.g., drowning, suffocating, starving, burning; blinding them and destroying their
ability to hear; damaging their brains, severing their limbs, crushing their organs;
inducing heart attacks, ulcers, paralysis, seizures; forcing them to inhale tobacco smoke,
drink alcohol, and ingest various drugs, such as heroine and cocaine, etc.) .
Cohen agrees that these humans (regrettably, often called ‘marginal’ humans) have
rights. I will argue that his explanation why these humans have rights entails, surpris-
ingly (and contrary to his intentions), that
have rights as well. His strategy also
has the surprising consequence that
no humans have rights
. Furthermore, his strategy
supports the negations of these conclusions, so it has inconsistent and other false
implications. Rescuing these arguments depends on, among other things, solving a
seemingly intractable problem in probability theory and metaphysics, so it is highly
doubtful that they can be salvaged. A number of other philosophers’ arguments are
similar to Cohen’s and are subject to similar objections.