Document Type



Master of Arts



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

John Brunero, Ph.D.


Jon McGinnis Ph.D.

Berit Brogaard Ph.D.


This paper seeks to answer two primary questions: 1) What do we mean by rights?, and 2) How do animals fit into that rights structure? I discuss rights theory broadly, and end with the determination that Contractarianism is the only theory we can accept, if we wish to avoid metaphysical entanglements. By supplanting rationality with four criteria I develop to distinguish contracting from non-contracting agents, I am able to avoid the most serious flaws in this theory. This paper then moves on to consider how we deal with children and the cognitively impaired, inside of my developed rights structure. Using Thomistic theology, I establish a differentiation between humans and animals. I then consider the normative question, and determine how it is we are to treat these non-bearers of rights. This paper concludes with an analysis of the current animal rights debate, and explains how it is that my theory is the best solution to the question of how it is we are to regard animals in our modern society.

OCLC Number