Part of a number of essays which follow are written by experts from various interdisciplinary fields at the request of Animal Law.
I chose the title with deliberation. My concern in this paper is not with moral theory, but with the law that has given rights to owned-animals, and the extent to which these rights have been enforced.
I believe that there is a three-fold hierarchy as to the extent of these rights in accordance with the animal that is their object. At the top of the hierarchy are rights accorded to slaves under a legal system that is not based on race. As the paradigm for this level I have chosen ancient Roman law. In the middle of the hierarchy are rights accorded to slaves under a legal system that is based on race. I have selected English-speaking America as an example of race-based slave law. Rights in this context are more restrictive because owners have a feeling of natural superiority- slaves are slaves because they are not fit to be anything else; slaves are slaves not only because the law dictates as such, but because it is believed that there is a large natural gulf in intellect and moral being between them and the owner-class. However, law makes manumission difficult. Even when slaves are freed, they and their descendants are not treated as equals in the community: they may be denied citizenship and have restricted access to education. At the bottom of the hierarchy are legal rights accorded to non-human owned-animals. They have fewest rights because of speciesism. They are inferior to us, and are owned for our purposes.
Watson, Alan, "Rights of Slaves and Other Owned-Animals" (1997). Scholarly Works. Paper 838.