Do animals have intrinsic value?

A single coin will increase in value as a collector's item once it is taken out of circulation. This also seems to apply to animals. An animal is given extra intrinsic value once it threatens to become extinct. However, the larger the number of a certain species and the more maltreatment it receives, the less intrinsic value the animal deserves, so it seems. The total of all 450 million factory animals in the Netherlands seem to have less intrinsic value than the panda in China. The intrinsic value of animals implies that they have their own value, apart from their financial, instrumental and practical value, attributed by humans. The question is whether man is able or willing to keep those issues separated.

Intrinsic value: empty words?

Since the adoption of the Animal Protection Act in 1981, the Dutch Government has acknowledged the concept of the intrinsic value of the individual animal. The Health and Welfare Act describes the term in the following words: 'acknowledgment of the intrinsic value of animals means that animals have value in their own right and as a consequence their interests are no longer automatically subordinate to man's interests'. According to government policy, the purpose of animal protection law is to improve conditions to ensure that the animal is protected from human actions that threaten its well-being.
Since its inclusion in Dutch legislation the term has been embraced by animal rights activists. The fact that so many have accepted the term and that conditions for animals have only deteriorated instead of improved, should arouse suspicion in all animal protectionists. We all pretend to know what is meant by intrinsic value. It sounds interesting enough and we let it speak for itself, not really understanding what we are talking about. The term is gratefully used by the interested parties in the factory farming business and by politicians. Talking is cheap when speaking of animals in terms of their intrinsic value. Their words about intrinsic value does nothing to help improve the animals' living conditions. Their words are empty, seemingly in the interest of animals.

Value and right are unrelated

Rights of individuals (man or animal) should not decrease or increase in relation to their value, be it in terms of money, indispensability or intrinsic value. Even if a person should consider their own life worth next to nothing, this person's rights would be equal to that of a person with a high self-esteem. Our law does not acknowledge an animal as a legal body and thus there is in principle no difference between an animal and an object. The value of an object may vary from zero to priceless. The introduction of the concept of intrinsic value would possibly lead to preventing the animal from becoming extinct and from being possessed as an object.
It is in our nature to focus on high priority issues and to ignore insignificant matters. Likewise people tend to consider living beings worthless that are found to have little intrinsic value. Factory farming is a situation where large numbers of animals are sure to have diminished intrinsic value.

Freedom is a better basic principle of animal rights

The concept of intrinsic value is beyond our powers of imagination. In other words, it is not what you think it is. Intrinsic value constitutes an impracticable basic principle of animal rights.
There is a certain analogy to religion. You cannot persuade a person to believe in God on the strength of rational arguments. People with the same faith usually succeed in reaching agreement on the practical implications. However, there is no legal consensus on faith. Likewise, there is no unequivocal definition of intrinsic value to make it legally disputable in a court of law. Intrinsic value is a vague and therefore impracticable term as a fundament of animal rights. Finally and this is a serious objection: it is a type of circular reasoning. People will always (unconsciously) object to this.
It would only be appropriate to use the term when trying to save rare or nearly extinct animal species or Nature itself. It is a much better idea to base the interests of animals on the universal right of freedom for both man and animal. Would people accept the idea of basing human rights on their human value? Why found animal rights on other concepts than human rights?

logoThis page describes one aspect of the influence that man has on the quality of life of an animal. We wish to promote the (in other countries as well) growing of awareness, that freedom is also important for an animal. An animal is not a thing, but a being that has the right to quality of a natural way of life. If you want to do something to help animals, click here for our suggestions.

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