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Dog Duty

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Burgess-Jackson (1998) argues that the duties we have to our companion animals are similar to the duties we have to our children. Specifically, he argues that a person who takes custody of either a nonhuman animal or a child elevates the moral status of the child or animal, endowing each with rights neither had before. These rights obligate that person to provide for the well being of the creature—animal or child—in question. This paper offers two arguments against this position. First, a creature's rights rest solely on the creature's intrinsic properties. Thus, the person taking custody of a creature does not endow the creature with new rights. Rather, the custodian assumes the responsibilities associated with ensuring that the creature's rights are protected and preserved. Second, our children possess intrinsic properties and, hence, rights—most important, the right to life—that our pets lack. This difference undermines the analogy on which Burgess-Jackson's argument depends. Our pets are not like our children, as Burgess-Jackson claims. Instead, they are more akin to our slaves.

Affiliations: 1: Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, Olin Hall, Whitman College, 345 Boyer Avenue, Walla Walla, WA 99362


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