Brandon has a very good post in response to the post below on animal rights. He argues for a view of rights that is grounded in justice and explicitly connected with our status as creatures of God (all of us, that is). He notes that this can be done in a quasi-Lockean manner, seeing all rights as ultimately derived from God, or in terms of natural piety based on relationship and benefits received:
It is along these two lines, I think, that we can establish the claim that animals have at least a weak form of right. They have rights in virtue of being good creatures of God, and in virtue of being our benefactors, in however weak a sense. The problem with basing animal rights on interests is that the only interests that can establish rights are just rights, so an interest-based account, if it is to work at all, simply reduces to a justice-based one.
I agree with pretty much all of this. In fact, it’s similar in significant ways to the case that Andrew Linzey has made for animal rights in his Animal Theology and Animal Gospel. Linzey taks about “theos-rights” – that is, the rights of God with respect to his creatures. “When we speak of animal rights we conceptualise what is objectively owed to animals as a matter of justice by virtue of their Creator’s right.”
I think Brandon may be right that an interst-based account, as an account of why some creatures are in the “moral club” so to speak, reduces to a justice based one as he’s laid it out. Interests by themselves don’t show that they must be respected. You need some principles of justice such as equality and desert. Still, having interests – that is, having the capacity for one’s experiential welfare to be affected – seems like a sufficient indication that a creature deserves to be given some moral consideration (I agree with Brandon that it may not be necessary, and that it’s possible, and indeed likely, that inanimate creation has moral claims). It’s often, if not primarily, with respect to experiential welfare that we apply our principles of justice. I think this is why some kind of interest-based account can play a role in filling out the contents of rights. Given that animals are good creations of God, wouldn’t some description of their vital interests be necessary in order to give content to what it means to respect them as creatures of God? An animal has a vital interest in, say, not being confined or killed in virtue of the kind of creature that it is and what it means for that creature’s life to go better or worse for it. And respecting that creature’s nature strikes me as an essential component of what it means to treat it as a good creature of God.