|Part of |
|Rights by beneficiary|
|Other groups of rights|
|Part of |
|Rights by beneficiary|
|Other groups of rights|
Animal rights is the philosophy according to which many or all
Many advocates of animal rights oppose the assignment of moral value and fundamental protections on the basis of species membership alone.
In parallel to the debate about moral rights, law schools in North America now often teach animal law, and several legal scholars, such as Steven M. Wise and Gary L. Francione, support the extension of basic legal rights and personhood to non-human animals. The animals most often considered in arguments for personhood are hominids. Some animal-rights academics support this because it would break the species barrier, but others oppose it because it predicates moral value on mental complexity rather than on sentience alone. As of November 2019[update], 29 countries had enacted bans on hominoid experimentation; Argentina has granted a captive orangutan basic human rights since 2014.
Critics of animal rights argue that nonhuman animals are unable to enter into a
For some the basis of animal rights is in religion or animal worship (or in general nature worship), with some religions banning killing of any animal, and in other religions animals can be considered unclean.
In Islam, animal rights were recognized early by the
According to Christianity, all animals, from the smallest to the largest, are cared for and loved. According to the Bible, "All these animals waited for the Lord, that the Lord might give them food at the hour. The Lord gives them, they receive; The Lord opens his hand, and they are filled with good things". It further says God "gave food to the animals, and made the crows cry."
The two main philosophical approaches to animal ethics are utilitarian and rights-based. The former is exemplified by
There are a number of positions that can be defended from a consequentalist or deontologist perspective, including the capabilities approach, represented by Martha Nussbaum, and the egalitarian approach, which has been examined by Ingmar Persson and Peter Vallentyne. The capabilities approach focuses on what individuals require to fulfill their capabilities: Nussbaum (2006) argues that animals need a right to life, some control over their environment, company, play, and physical health.
Stephen R. L. Clark, Mary Midgley, and Bernard Rollin also discuss animal rights in terms of animals being permitted to lead a life appropriate for their kind. Egalitarianism favors an equal distribution of happiness among all individuals, which makes the interests of the worse off more important than those of the better off. Another approach, virtue ethics, holds that in considering how to act we should consider the character of the actor, and what kind of moral agents we should be. Rosalind Hursthouse has suggested an approach to animal rights based on virtue ethics. Mark Rowlands has proposed a contractarian approach.
Nussbaum (2004) writes that utilitarianism, starting with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, has contributed more to the recognition of the moral status of animals than any other ethical theory. The utilitarian philosopher most associated with animal rights is Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University. Singer is not a rights theorist, but uses the language of rights to discuss how we ought to treat individuals. He is a preference utilitarian, meaning that he judges the rightness of an act by the extent to which it satisfies the preferences (interests) of those affected.
His position is that there is no reason not to give equal consideration to the interests of human and nonhumans, though his principle of equality does not require identical treatment. A mouse and a man both have an interest in not being kicked, and there are no moral or logical grounds for failing to accord those interests equal weight. Interests are predicated on the ability to suffer, nothing more, and once it is established that a being has interests, those interests must be given equal consideration. Singer quotes the English philosopher Henry Sidgwick (1838–1900): "The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view ... of the Universe, than the good of any other."
Singer argues that equality of consideration is a prescription, not an assertion of fact: if the equality of the sexes were based only on the idea that men and women were equally intelligent, we would have to abandon the practice of equal consideration if this were later found to be false. But the moral idea of equality does not depend on matters of fact such as intelligence, physical strength, or moral capacity. Equality therefore cannot be grounded on the outcome of scientific investigations into the intelligence of nonhumans. All that matters is whether they can suffer.
Commentators on all sides of the debate now accept that animals suffer and feel pain, although it was not always so. Bernard Rollin, professor of philosophy, animal sciences, and biomedical sciences at Colorado State University, writes that Descartes's influence continued to be felt until the 1980s. Veterinarians trained in the US before 1989 were taught to ignore pain, he writes, and at least one major veterinary hospital in the 1960s did not stock narcotic analgesics for animal pain control. In his interactions with scientists, he was often asked to "prove" that animals are conscious, and to provide "scientifically acceptable" evidence that they could feel pain.
Scientific publications have made it clear since the 1980s that the majority of researchers do believe animals suffer and feel pain, though it continues to be argued that their suffering may be reduced by an inability to experience the same dread of anticipation as humans or to remember the suffering as vividly. The ability of animals to suffer, even it may vary in severity, is the basis for Singer's application of equal consideration. The problem of animal suffering, and animal consciousness in general, arose primarily because it was argued that animals have no language. Singer writes that, if language were needed to communicate pain, it would often be impossible to know when humans are in pain, though we can observe pain behavior and make a calculated guess based on it. He argues that there is no reason to suppose that the pain behavior of nonhumans would have a different meaning from the pain behavior of humans.
Tom Regan, professor emeritus of philosophy at North Carolina State University, argues in The Case for Animal Rights (1983) that nonhuman animals are what he calls "subjects-of-a-life", and as such are bearers of rights. He writes that, because the moral rights of humans are based on their possession of certain cognitive abilities, and because these abilities are also possessed by at least some nonhuman animals, such animals must have the same moral rights as humans. Although only humans act as moral agents, both marginal-case humans, such as infants, and at least some nonhumans must have the status of "moral patients".
Moral patients are unable to formulate moral principles, and as such are unable to do right or wrong, even though what they do may be beneficial or harmful. Only moral agents are able to engage in moral action. Animals for Regan have "
... individuals are subjects-of-a-life if they have beliefs and desires; perception, memory, and a sense of the future, including their own future; an emotional life together with feelings of pleasure and pain; preference- and welfare-interests; the ability to initiate action in pursuit of their desires and goals; a psychophysical identity over time; and an individual welfare in the sense that their experiential life fares well or ill for them, logically independently of their utility for others and logically independently of their being the object of anyone else's interests.
Whereas Singer is primarily concerned with improving the treatment of animals and accepts that, in some hypothetical scenarios, individual animals might be used legitimately to further human or nonhuman ends, Regan believes we ought to treat nonhuman animals as we would humans. He applies the strict Kantian ideal (which Kant himself applied only to humans) that they ought never to be sacrificed as a means to an end, and must be treated as ends in themselves.
Gary Francione, professor of law and philosophy at Rutgers Law School in Newark, is a leading abolitionist writer, arguing that animals need only one right, the right not to be owned. Everything else would follow from that paradigm shift. He writes that, although most people would condemn the mistreatment of animals, and in many countries there are laws that seem to reflect those concerns, "in practice the legal system allows any use of animals, however abhorrent." The law only requires that any suffering not be "unnecessary". In deciding what counts as "unnecessary", an animal's interests are weighed against the interests of human beings, and the latter almost always prevail.
Francione's Animals, Property, and the Law (1995) was the first extensive jurisprudential treatment of animal rights. In it, Francione compares the situation of animals to the treatment of slaves in the United States, where legislation existed that appeared to protect them while the courts ignored that the institution of slavery itself rendered the protection unenforceable. He offers as an example the United States Animal Welfare Act, which he describes as an example of symbolic legislation, intended to assuage public concern about the treatment of animals, but difficult to implement.
He argues that a focus on animal welfare, rather than animal rights, may worsen the position of animals by making the public feel comfortable about using them and entrenching the view of them as property. He calls animal rights groups who pursue animal welfare issues, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the "new welfarists", arguing that they have more in common with 19th-century animal protectionists than with the animal rights movement; indeed, the terms "animal protection" and "protectionism" are increasingly favored. His position in 1996 was that there is no animal rights movement in the United States.
The idea is that, operating behind the veil of ignorance, they will choose a social contract in which there is basic fairness and justice for them no matter the position they occupy. Rawls did not include species membership as one of the attributes hidden from the decision-makers in the original position. Rowlands proposes extending the veil of ignorance to include rationality, which he argues is an undeserved property similar to characteristics including race, sex and intelligence.
American philosopher Timothy Garry has proposed an approach that deems nonhuman animals worthy of prima facie rights. In a philosophical context, a prima facie (Latin for "on the face of it" or "at first glance") right is one that appears to be applicable at first glance, but upon closer examination may be outweighed by other considerations. In his book
... if a nonhuman animal were to kill a human being in the U.S., it would have broken the laws of the land and would probably get rougher sanctions than if it were a human. My point is that like laws govern all who interact within a society, rights are to be applied to all beings who interact within that society. This is not to say these rights endowed by humans are equivalent to those held by nonhuman animals, but rather that if humans possess rights then so must all those who interact with humans.
In sum, Garry suggests that humans have obligations to nonhuman animals; animals do not, and ought not to, have uninfringible rights against humans.
Women have played a central role in animal advocacy since the 19th century. The anti-vivisection movement in the 19th and early 20th century in England and the United States was largely run by women, including Frances Power Cobbe, Anna Kingsford, Lizzy Lind af Hageby and Caroline Earle White (1833–1916). Garner writes that 70 per cent of the membership of the Victoria Street Society (one of the anti-vivisection groups founded by Cobbe) were women, as were 70 per cent of the membership of the British RSPCA in 1900.
The modern animal advocacy movement has a similar representation of women. They are not invariably in leadership positions: during the March for Animals in Washington, D.C., in 1990—the largest animal rights demonstration held until then in the United States—most of the participants were women, but most of the platform speakers were men.
The preponderance of women in the movement has led to a body of academic literature exploring feminism and animal rights, such as feminism and vegetarianism or
Some transhumanists argue for animal rights, liberation, and "uplift" of animal consciousness into machines. Transhumanism also understands animal rights on a gradation or spectrum with other types of sentient rights, including human rights and the rights of conscious artificial intelligences (posthuman rights).
According to sociologist
... Animal liberation challenges large sectors of the capitalist economy by assailing corporate agriculture and pharmaceutical companies and their suppliers. Far from being irrelevant to social movements, animal rights can form the basis for a broad coalition of progressive social groups and drive changes that strike at the heart of capitalist exploitation of animals, people and the earth.
Judge Richard Posner of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit debated the issue of animal rights in 2001 with Peter Singer. Posner posits that his moral intuition tells him "that human beings prefer their own. If a dog threatens a human infant, even if it requires causing more pain to the dog to stop it, than the dog would have caused to the infant, then we favour the child. It would be monstrous to spare the dog."
Singer challenges this by arguing that formerly unequal rights for gays, women, and certain races were justified using the same set of intuitions. Posner replies that equality in civil rights did not occur because of ethical arguments, but because facts mounted that there were no morally significant differences between humans based on race, sex, or sexual orientation that would support inequality. If and when similar facts emerge about humans and animals, the differences in rights will erode too. But facts will drive equality, not ethical arguments that run contrary to instinct, he argues. Posner calls his approach "soft utilitarianism", in contrast to Singer's "hard utilitarianism". He argues:
The "soft" utilitarian position on animal rights is a moral intuition of many, probably most, Americans. We realize that animals feel pain, and we think that to inflict pain without a reason is bad. Nothing of practical value is added by dressing up this intuition in the language of philosophy; much is lost when the intuition is made a stage in a logical argument. When kindness toward animals is levered into a duty of weighting the pains of animals and of people equally, bizarre vistas of social engineering are opened up.
Roger Scruton, the British philosopher, argued that rights imply obligations. Every legal privilege, he wrote, imposes a burden on the one who does not possess that privilege: that is, "your right may be my duty." Scruton therefore regarded the emergence of the animal rights movement as "the strangest cultural shift within the liberal worldview", because the idea of rights and responsibilities is, he argued, distinctive to the human condition, and it makes no sense to spread them beyond our own species.
He accused animal rights advocates of "pre-scientific" anthropomorphism, attributing traits to animals that are, he says, Beatrix Potter-like, where "only man is vile." It is within this fiction that the appeal of animal rights lies, he argued. The world of animals is non-judgmental, filled with dogs who return our affection almost no matter what we do to them, and cats who pretend to be affectionate when, in fact, they care only about themselves. It is, he argued, a fantasy, a world of escape.
Scruton singled out Peter Singer, a prominent Australian philosopher and animal-rights activist, for criticism. He wrote that Singer's works, including Animal Liberation, "contain little or no philosophical argument. They derive their radical moral conclusions from a vacuous utilitarianism that counts the pain and pleasure of all living things as equally significant and that ignores just about everything that has been said in our philosophical tradition about the real distinction between persons and animals."
Tom Regan countered this view of rights by distinguishing moral agents and moral patients.[unreliable source?]
According to a paper published in 2000 by Harold Herzog and Lorna Dorr, previous academic surveys of attitudes towards animal rights have tended to suffer from small sample sizes and non-representative groups.
According to some studies, women are more likely to empathize with the cause of animal rights than men. A 1996 study suggested that factors that may partially explain this discrepancy include attitudes towards feminism and science, scientific literacy, and the presence of a greater emphasis on "nurturance or compassion" among women.
A common misconception on the concept of animal rights is that its proponents want to grant non-human animals the exact same legal rights as humans, such as the
A 2007 survey to examine whether or not people who believed in
Two surveys found that attitudes towards animal rights tactics, such as direct action, are very diverse within the animal rights communities. Near half (50% and 39% in two surveys) of activists do not support direct action. One survey concluded "it would be a mistake to portray animal rights activists as homogeneous."
The foundation from which these behaviors spring is the ideology known as speciesism. Speciesism is deeply rooted in the widely-held belief that the human species is entitled to certain rights and privileges.
Too often overlooked in the animal world, according to Sapontzis, are insects that have interests, and therefore rights.
For example, in an editorial entitled 'Animal Rights Nonsense,' ... in the prestigious science journal Nature, defenders of animal rights are accused of being committed to the absurdity of 'bacteria rights.'
These religions emphasize ahimsa, which is the principle of non-violence towards all living things. The first precept is a prohibition against the killing of any creature. The Jain, Hindu and Buddhist injunctions against killing serve to teach that all creatures are spiritually equal.
Ahimsa is the ruling principle of Indian life from the very earliest times. ... This positive spiritual attitude is easily explained to the common man in a negative way as "ahimsa" and hence this way of denoting it. Tiruvalluvar speaks of this as "kollaamai" or "non-killing."
Books and papers are cited in short form in the footnotes, with full citations here. News and other sources are cited in full in the footnotes.