Know Your Animal Ethics & Animal Rights
1. Animal Ethics
"Philosophy ought to question the basic assumptions of the age.
Thinking through, critically and carefully, what most people take
for granted is, I believe, the chief task of philosophy, and it is
this task that makes philosophy a worthwhile activity."
When you are active in animal rights you should know why you are
being active and be able to defend your actions rationally. Simply
being emotional about animals is not enough because the opposition
may be equally emotionally back at you, resulting in a stalemate.
However, by stating your case rationally you can convince people of
your cause and win converts and that is surely part of doing animal
rights. Even the most emotional opponents, if they can be made to
see sense, are susceptible to rational arguments.
The chapter sets out the rational background for animal rights so
that philosophically you know where you are and have an idea of
where you are going. First it discusses the broad background of
animal ethics, then goes on to what rights are and finally compares
animal rights with animal ethics and other outlooks.
If you methodically question the meaning and purpose of life you are
a philosopher, whether amateur or professional. Ethics is the part
of philosophy that asks how people should live their lives and how
they should do good and right to each other. Animal ethics is the
same but includes animals. Robert Garner in his book Animal Ethics
says "Animal ethics seeks to examine beliefs that are held about the
moral status of non-human animals." But you can define animal ethics
more broadly by saying it is about acting for the moral good of
animals (including humans) by understanding animal-human moral
issues through knowledge and reasoning. Thus animal ethics is a
practical pursuit as well as a cognitive one.
Importance of Animal Ethics
Our relationship with animals is based on beliefs we absorb from our
upbringing and social customs. We accept these beliefs, often on
trust from our elders, without challenging or analyzing them. But
unexamined beliefs when acted out can do enormous harm. Everyone has
some contact with animals directly or indirectly, whether farming or
shooting animals, eating them, feeding their pets factory farmed
animals, going to the zoo, using substances tested on animals or
washing with animal-based soap. Yet most people do not realize the
suffering and destruction humanity imposes on animals because it
goes on largely out of sight and where it peaks above the surface it
is tolerated as normal.
Here is the point. The harm humans are doing to animals amounts to a
holocaust that we must address and if we are to make civilized
progress we must comprehend what we are doing to animals and think
about how we should be treating them. All of us must justify and
defend our relations with animals in light of animal ethics. An
ethical issue is when you think a harm or wrong is happening and
something should be done about it. If we harm people then we must
justify why we harm them and if we cannot justify our actions then
we must not harm them. In the same way, with animal ethics we must
critically question our conduct with animals. We must ask what we
are doing to animals, why we are doing it, how should we and how can
we do better - and take action.
Before going further, a summary of some key concepts mentioned in
this chapter may be helpful.
√ Sentiency: being able to suffer and feel pleasure.
√ Moral rights: conferral of protection or privilege.
√ Moral status: worthy of moral consideration and moral rights.
√ Interests: a stake in fulfilling a life's natural potential.
√ Intrinsic value: a value something has independent of its
√ Equal consideration of interests: giving weight to everyone's
√ Speciesism: (or 'specismo', Italian, pronounced speh-chis-mo)
prejudice favoring your own species.
√ Utilitarianism: theory that states an action is morally right if
it benefits the largest number of beings with the greatest good.
Now a Biff From History
That animals are made for human use is a traditional attitude, at
any rate in Western society, and held at least from Old Testament
times up to Darwin (1809 - 1882). Aristotle (384 - 322 BC) thought
animals exist to provide humans with food and other provisions;
Aquinas (1225 - 1274) claimed that killing animals is acceptable and
we can treat them in any way useful to us; and Descartes (1596 -
1650) asserted that animal are mindless robots which cannot suffer,
the corollary being that we can do almost anything to them.
People have always had to emphasize differences between man and
beast to maintain and defend their belief in human superiority. The
rationally inclined assert that animals lack reason, intelligence,
language and creativity. The spiritually inclined believe animals
are not made in the 'image of God' and, although some of them
appreciate and admire animals as God's creatures, many of them are
largely unresponsive to animal misfortune and distress. Generally,
people protect some animals, but only if the animals belong to
people as property.
Darwin, however, significantly helped begin the demolition of human
centeredness by convincingly arguing that animals and humans evolved
from the same ancestors (although he did not dare write this
overtly). Common evolutionary descent explains why humans share the
same appearance as animals, especially with the apes. This shocked
the Victorian public of Darwin's day but his evolutionary theory in
outline is widely accepted today.
Thus an ethical dilemma arose. Animals and humans are similar. So if
humans have moral status then animals should have moral status too.
For most of the history of Western philosophy just about everyone
passed off the moral status of animals as a trivial and
insignificant question. However, since the 1970's an energetic
debate has been waging about animal moral status, ignited by
firebrand philosophers such as Peter Singer (see Chapter 6).
The animal moral status debate is founded on basic, common moral
principles: it is wrong to cause suffering and it is wrong to
discriminate against others by giving greater importance to your own
group. Apply these principles consistently, says Singer, and they
lead to the logical conclusion that we should morally treat animals
like humans, provided the animals have relevant similarities with
Some animal oriented philosophers say the only really important
morally relevant similarity of animals with humans is that both can
feel pain and suffer, that they are sentient. The great English
philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748 - 1832) is often quoted as writing:
"The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire
the rights which never could have been withholding from them but by
the hand of tyranny. ...the question is not, Can they reason? not,
Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"
So we must distinguish the relevant similarities of animals and
humans (e.g sentiency) and not use inaccurate attributes to justify
excluding animals from our moral consideration. Relevant
similarities in moral terms boil down to basic requirements, such as
the right to reproduce and pass on your genes, the right to liberty
and the right to not to be forced to suffer for the gain of others
(as in experimentation and farming).
However, many people today still cannot accept animals on the same
moral level as humanity, even while acknowledging the contributions
of Darwin. But thanks to Singer and some fellow philosophers it is
said that there is more controversy and discussion about animals
today than during all past times combined.
How to Proceed?
When we make a judgment about the rights or wrongs of a situation
our views and actions must be based on knowledge and reason. We must
examine our thoughts and feelings carefully. We cannot rely
completely on our intuition or feelings because people may be
manipulating us for their own purpose without our realizing what is
happening. We cannot rely on faith, religion, authority, the law,
social standards, tradition, precedent, fashion, immediate
impression, emotional illogic, fantasy, magic and many other reasons
that are not necessarily rational.
Reasons for acting ethically can be simple or complex, tempered by
intuition or emotion, or whatever. But our reasons for acting
ethically must be consistent, comprehensive and based on fact, that
is on the truth of the matter as far as we know it. And our reasons
for acting ethically must work the 6C Way:
√ Clearly - can be understood.
√ Concisely - not verbose or diffuse.
√ Compatibly - agreeing with basic sensitivity of what is
right and good.
√ Consistently - without contradictions.
√ Comprehensively - not ad hoc but relevant to all kinds of
√ Constructively - extending our judgment to new or ambiguous areas
by building on what we already
understand and accept.
Ethical theories (also called moral systems or moral frameworks)
offer ways to organize your thoughts when you make decisions about
which moral action to take. They also enable you to see other
people's position on moral issues better. Ethicists have developed
three influential ethical theories that answer the three moral
questions people have asked down the centuries. Most ethical
positions can be understood against one or more of them. The three
moral questions people ask are: What outcome should I aim for?
What am I required to do? What should I do as a virtuous
1. What outcome should I aim for?
Consequence Ethics says you should act to bring about the best
results or consequences. This theory is also called Consequentialism
and its traditional name in philosophy is Teleology, from the Greek
teleos meaning end or purpose.
Consequence Ethics is goal-directed. It asserts that only the good
outcome of your goal or action is important, not how you achieve
your goal. You need not be dutiful or virtuous - you can even lie,
cheat or whatever - so long as the end result is morally good. Say
you see a couple of sheep or pigs escape from a slaughterhouse. You
might believe that taking them back to be killed is immoral, so you
snatch and hide them and lie that you do not know where they are.
Your action focuses on results, the saving of the animals from
slaughter. You would believe the outcome is morally more important
than stealing and lying.
2. What am I required to do?
Duty Ethics says you should do whatever is your duty, even if by
doing it you harm yourself or others by suffering the consequences.
For King and country, right or wrong, is a Duty Ethics dictum. Duty
Ethics is also called Deontology.
Duty Ethics opposes Consequence Ethics. According to Duty Ethics
doing what you consider is your obligation (or duty) is more
important than the outcome of your action. As a rancher you might
hate shooting predators but accept that you have an obligation to
protect your cattle regardless of your action's impact on wildlife.
Or you might release laboratory animals used in experiments because
you see your action as your duty to animal kind. Alternatively you
might condemn releasing lab animals because you believe your first
duty is upholding the law and the standards of society as you see it
(moral theories can work both ways!).
3. What Should I Do As A Virtuous Person?
Virtue Ethics says you should act as a virtuous person would act.
Virtue Ethics says you cannot isolate the making of ethical
decisions from your personality. Your good actions are the result of
good character. A person of good character is someone who has
admirable personal qualities, such as compassion, kindness, respect,
toleration, honesty and courage. Possessing admirable personal
qualities makes you a virtuous person. This philosophical outlook is
also called Virtue Theory or Value Theory.
Virtue Ethics flourished in Ancient Greece. Aristotle (BC 384 - 322)
is often cited as its main philosophical representative. He argued
that a virtue is the mean or middle path between two vices, like
courage is better than fearlessness or cowardice. Virtue Ethics
expired in the fourth century AD when moral theories purporting to
be given by God supplanted it. However, the 20th century brought it
back to life and modernized it. Modern Virtue Ethics does not
emphasize specific moral traits but says you should be virtuous in
all aspects of your life and be a good person all the time.
Virtue Ethics contrasts with Consequence Ethics and Duty Ethics in
that it brings in all the qualities of being human - like reason,
responsibility and emotion - to influence your ethical
consideration. You might, for instance, approve or reprove
individuals or companies, supporting only those that do not harm
animals and nature. Are these individuals or companies advancing or
opposing virtue? Are they progressive, admirable and responsible or
insensitive, negligent and dishonest?
Ethical Theories Compared
These ethical theories - Consequence Ethics, Duty Ethics and Virtue
Ethics - overlap with each other, but each focuses on a different
principle. These principles reveal distinct insights into moral
problems and suggest different ways for resolving them. The table
below contrasts and highlights the main features of these theories.
|Table 1. Ethical Theories|
Comparison of Consequence Ethics, Duty Ethics & Virtue Ethics
||How can I make the best outcome or consequence?
||What are my obligations or duties?
||How will my actions support my being a virtuous person?
||Doing what is likely to achieve the best results.
||Doing your obligation or duty.
||Doing what a virtuous person would do.
||The best outcome you can make.
||The duty you are required to do.
||What the virtuous person should do.
|Main Concern Is
||The value of results - not your duty or quality of character.
||Doing your duty - whatever the consequences and whatever your character.
||Your moral character - not consequences or duty.
||Produce the most good.
||Perform the right duty.
||Develop your moral character.
Choosing an Ethical Theory
Which ethical theory (Consequence, Duty or Virtue Ethics) should you
follow to help you resolve an ethical issue?
The answer may partly depend on your personality. You might be more
concerned about the consequences of your action than be oriented to
notions of doing your duty, or visa versa. Or you might be more
concerned about being virtuous.
Another suggestion commonly put forward for choosing which theory to
follow is to use one that feels most natural for your particular set
of circumstances. For instance it might be useful to use:
A Consequence theory - for dealing with large numbers.
You might have to decide to save a majority of some animals at the
expense of a minority of other animals - good consequences for some
animals, bad consequences for other animals.
A Duty theory - for dealing with conflicting obligations.
As a livestock farmer you are likely to believe that you have an
obligation to send livestock for slaughter to feed people. Thus your
primary duty would be to people and your secondary duty would be to
animals, such as by being as kind to animals as economics permit.
A Virtue theory - for dealing with personal decisions.
You would apply the range of your cognitive faculties (reason,
experience, logic, etc) and emotional faculties (intuition, belief,
faith, etc) to act as a virtuous person would act. So, for example,
should you eat animals? Your reasoning might go like this: as a
virtuous person you should be compassionate to all creatures;
therefore you should not cause suffering; thus you should not eat
There is a third accepted way for choosing which ethical theory to
follow. These ethical theories (Consequence, Duty and Virtue Ethics)
sometime complement one another. So if two or all three of them
support your proposed moral judgment and action you can feel more
confident of being on the right moral track. For instance, people
may want to stop whaling because it will upset the ecosystem
(Consequence Ethics), or because there will be no whales left for
posterity (Duty Ethics), or because enlightened people do not
support whaling (Virtue Ethics). Thus you would consider each
ethical theory in turn to find the best overall solution.
Even if you favor one ethical theory over the others, keep in mind
all three theories so that you are better aware of how ethical
disagreements can arise, that is when one person advocates one
ethical theory that clashes with someone else advocating another
ethical theory. A foxhunter or bullfighter may defend their actions
as a preservation of tradition. Alternatively, you might claim that
no one sympathetic to animals would kill them for sport. This can be
seen as a case of Duty Ethics versus Virtue Ethics.
Do Philosophical Ideas Work?
Generations of people acquire philosophical ideas and values without
realizing they are doing so and without knowing where their ideas
and values come from. Many of our ideas and values originated from
individuals who lived, thought and died before us, examples are John
Lock and Karl Marx. Few things in human society are bigger than
revolutions and revolutions are made of philosophical ideas. John
Locke (1632 - 1704), English physician, public servant and
philosopher, significantly helped lay the foundations of liberal
society. In his lifetime his ideas about government, tyranny and the
rights of man were pivotal in supplanting the English monarch in the
'Glorious Revolution' of 1688. Even after his death Locke?s ideas
played a leading role in the 18th century by helping to guide the
American and French revolutions. The other pre-eminent thinker was a
German é©gré ·ho settled in London and spent much of his time
writing there at the British Library. Karl Marx (1818 - 1883) wrote
the intellectual foundation of Communism that fuelled the Communist
revolutions of Russia and China in the 20th century.
Hundreds of millions of people today still live under the ideas of
these two thinkers, ample demonstration of the power and
pervasiveness of philosophical ideas. If you are not convinced,
where do your ideas of soul and man's place in the universe come
from (clue: Plato and Darwin)?
2 Animal Rights
"To spread the concept of animal rights beyond our species is to jeopardize our dignity as moral beings, who live in
judgment of one another and of themselves"
~ Roger Scruton ~
"Animal rights must not only be an idea but a social movement for the liberation of the world's most oppressed beings, both in terms of numbers and in the severity of their pain."
~ Steven Best ~
What are Animal Rights?
Animal rights are the rights of animals to be protected from human
use and abuse and can take moral, legal and practical forms. People
who support animal rights believe that animals are not ours to use
as we wish for whatever purpose, be it for food, clothing,
experimentation or entertainment. Animal rights supporters also
believe that we should consider the best interests of animals
regardless of the usage value they may have for us.
But what are animal rights specifically, how do animal rights
compare with human rights, and are rights a remedy for all moral
Background to Animal Rights
The concept of human rights is often based on a belief in 'natural
rights'. Natural rights are assumed to be given by God, or were
enjoyed when people were living in a 'state of nature' before people
were civilized, or are in some way possessed universally in that
rights apply to everyone automatically, indisputably and
irrevocably. The English philosopher John Locke in the 17th century
was among the first to distinguished certain natural rights he
thought people were entitled to: the rights to life, liberty and
Alternatively, human rights might be neither natural nor universal.
You could argue that rights are only what people are willing to
confer as they see fit on others, being the granting of particular
benefits by people to people. The generally held modern view of
human rights is that they are:
√ Natural - rulers do not invent them.
√ Universal - they apply to everyone.
√ Equal - they are the same for everyone.
√ Inalienable - you cannot relinquish them.
Rights are usually contracted between a country's government and its
citizens, like the right to vote, the right to fair trial and the
right to free speech, and vary from county to country. Many states
make utterances about giving their citizens rights but do not always
grant rights fully.
Major Dates for Rights
1776 The United States Declaration of Independence recognized the
right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This was the
world's first major published statement of human rights.
1789 The National Assembly of France approved rights for the common
man, including equality before the law, equal opportunity, freedom
from arbitrary imprisonment, freedom of speech and religion,
security of property, and taxation commensurate with ability to pay.
1948 The United Nations affirmed its Universal Declaration of Human
Rights, setting out over two dozen rights, including the right of
individuals to life, liberty and education, to equality in law, to
the freedoms of movement, religion and association and the right to
For progress on a declaration on animal rights see below: Universal
Declaration on Animals.
Animal Rights Theory
The justification for conferring rights on animals is that animals
are in many important ways like humans. Animals are sentient
creatures. They feel pleasure and pain, experience emotions,
remember, anticipate and learn. What happens to them is important
for them, unlike what happens to a rock or a stone. So, if you argue
that humans deserve rights, by simple extension you can argue that
animals also deserve rights.
Animal interests, however, are not always the same as human
interests. Thus the range of rights that animals need are not always
the same as the range of rights that humans need. Animals are not in
need of equality before the law, freedom of speech, freedom of
religion or fair taxation. Nor do animals have an interest in voting
or getting a high school education. Hence, it would be meaningless
and silly to talk of giving animals the right to these interests.
However, this should not prevent us from bestowing relevant or
appropriate rights on animals.
Relevant rights for animals can be any benefits appropriate for
animals that people wish to bestow on them. Relevant rights for
animals can include:
√ The right to live free in the natural state of their
√ The right to express normal behaviour (e.g. food searching,
grooming, nest building).
√ The right to life (e.g. not be killed for human food or
other human use).
√ The right to reproduce (e.g. pass on their genes to the
√ The right to chose their own lifestyle (e.g. not be coerced
into experiments or used as entertainment).
√ The right to live free from human induced harm (e.g.
hunger, thirst, molestation, fear, distress, pain, injury or
If you believe animals have such rights then you would have a
doubtful basis for exploiting animals. You would have a moral duty
to support those rights and would be morally corrupt if you did not.
If animals have these rights, how could you justify, say, eating
animals, using them for sport or keeping them in zoos? In practical
terms you would have to live your life accordingly, such as become a
vegetarian or vegan.
Fundamental Animal Ethical Positions
As for the actuality of giving rights to animals there are three
fundamental positions: abuse, welfare and liberation.
1. Abuse: animals have no moral status. This is the attitude
that we owe nothing to animals except to make use of them as and how
we like. It is the position many people held in past centuries and
many people still hold today, especially in China and surrounding
2. Welfare: animals should have welfare. This view is that
animals are a resource for humanity, we should treat animals kindly,
but humans always come first when there is a conflict of interest.
Welfarists acknowledge the need to use animals but try to alleviate
'needless' animal suffering. It is the position most people in the
West support today.
3. Liberation: animals should be liberated. This is the
avant-garde position: animals deserve moral status similar in some
way to human moral status. There are two types of animal
liberationist and both want to abolish the use of animals on moral
or other grounds. New welfarists regard abolition as a long-term
goal and meanwhile try to ease as much animal suffering as possible
by introducing practical welfare measures. The 'hard-line
abolitionists believe welfare is a waste of time and pitch straight
for abolition of animal use on the grounds that if there is no abuse
there is no need for welfare. Liberationists have a lifestyle quite
different to the majority of people, being vegan or vegetarian and
reject goods and services based on animals.
Variations on Animal Rights
The concept of animal rights has different levels of definition. So
to make any discussion meaningful and avoid talking at cross
purposes you need to clarify what people have in mind when they
speak about animal rights. For example you can distinguish three
basic views: absolute, equal and relative.
1. Absolute Animal Rights: you should always protect animals'
rights, even when doing so is troublesome.
Animals have value in themselves independent of their worth to
humans (they are said to have 'intrinsic' value, that is value
irrespective of their use to humans) and do not exist solely for
humans. Moreover, people must protect the rights of animals even
when to do so is difficult for human society. For instance, people
should not experiment on dogs to develop a possible life-saving drug
for humans even if it means delaying the drug's development by some
years. This view is held by animal rightists.
2. Equal Consideration of Animal Rights: you should give
equal importance to comparable interests of animals and humans.
Animals have at least some value in themselves irrespective of human
values (they have some intrinsic value), so we should treat them
well. Furthermore, people must give equal consideration to the
comparable interests of animals and humans. For example, when making
a moral decision about the sufferings of a dog and a human, neither
want pain inflicted on them, so we should give the same weight of
consideration to the dog as we would to the human. If we are not
prepared to make a human suffer we should not make a dog suffer.
This view may be held by people with a Utilitarian philosophy.
3. Relative Animal Rights: you should overrule the interests
of animals if you have good reason.
Animals have at least some value in themselves irrespective of human
attitudes (they have some intrinsic value), so we should treat them
well. But although people should avoid causing animals 'unnecessary'
suffering, animal rights are relative to human rights, so we can
cancel the interests of animals for the benefit of humans if there
is justification. For instance, we should use dogs and monkeys in
research and their welfare is important, but the well-being of
humans is more important. This view may be held by welfarists.
You need not confine yourself to these three levels when discussing
animal rights. You can make up nuances as you like, such as
broadening animal rights to apparently non-sentient animals or to
the whole of inanimate nature or by coming up with different
definitions of animal rights. But bear each level in mind to make
Are Rights a Cure-all?
Rights should be absolute if they are to protect individuals; they
cannot be suspended or hacked about to fit in with what someone may
happen to want. Yet sometimes there seem to be cases for overriding
rights during conflicts of interest. For example, it might seem
right to kill some individuals to save others, such as killing mice
spoiling a harvest and setting off a famine, or killing predators
such as coyotes or foxes eating the last individuals of an
endangered species. How should we react to situations like these? We
might react by temporarily adopting another philosophy, like
Utilitarianism - that you should act to bring about the greatest
good to the greatest number of individuals. Thus we should be aware
that rights are not a panacea that can cope with all moral
conditions all the time; now and then we may have to look outside
rights for other solutions to guide us when dealing with moral
Another problem with rights is that sometimes animals are said to
have intrinsic value - have a worth in themselves irrespective of
their value to humans. As an animal rightist you might claim that
all sentient beings are entitled to rights because they have equal
intrinsic value. But does intrinsic value really exist? Does it
exist independently of humanity? Intrinsic value may simply be a
part of the human value system that values things that have no value
or are said to have no value. If you do not believe in intrinsic
value then you might have to pursue animal liberation via
Utilitarianism, not through animal rights. As a utilitarian you
could claim that sentient animals have interests and therefore no
species (i.e. humanity) is more important than any other and we
should give equal moral consideration to every creature's moral
Rightist and utilitarian outlooks are similar and different. They
are similar in that withholding rights or withholding equal
consideration of interests is speciesism. They are different in that
(according to Utilitarianism but not rights) you may harm sentient
animals and humans, so long as the harm benefits the majority of
Universal Declaration on Animals
Questions about human welfare and about nature conservation are
addressed at the highest levels of government. They are debated at
international meetings and agreements among nations are codified in
binding Charters. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the
Child and the Convention on Biodiversity are examples. Yet animals
have no worldwide protection, presumably because they are so
important a part of human economic exploitation.
The lack of success in shaping internationally binding charters on
animal rights has not been for want of trying. People have attempted
to identify and advance the rights of animals at least since the
18th century. Henry Salt (1851 - 1939) is credited with writing the
first book on animal rights, published in 1892 and subsequently, and
he traced efforts back to John Lawrence (1753 - 1839) one of the
earliest writers in modern times on animal rights and welfare.
Lawrence argued in his 1796 book, A Philosophical and Practical
Treatise on Horses and the Moral Duties of Man Towards Brute
Creation, that we have to care for animals and common law should
support this principle in practice.
The 20th century saw a number of international declarations
supporting animal rights. Perhaps the most prominent venture was the
announcement in 1978 by the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) of the Universal
Declaration of Animal Rights. Among the Declaration's pronouncements
are that all animals have the same rights to existence, no animal
shall be ill-treated or subject to cruelty, animals shall command
the protection of law, and dead animals shall be treated with
respect. The Declaration, however, waned and faded away before it
could reach significant levels of international agreement.
More recently some of the world's leading animal welfare
organizations have started campaigning for the United Nations to
adopt a new declaration, this time on the welfare of animals: the
Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare. Why welfare and not rights?
Possibly the softer option of welfare is easier for people to
accept, so that this new declaration has a better chance of being
endorsed and enduring.
The animal organizations behind this new declaration envisage that
signatory countries to the document will recognize animals as
sentient beings. They hope their Declaration will make animal
welfare an important global issue, pioneer the way for legally
binding international agreements on animal welfare and hasten a
better deal for animals worldwide. The Declaration would also
underscore the importance of animal welfare as part of the moral
development of humanity. So far a number of United Nations member
states are acting as a steering group to advance the initiative at
the UN. But achieving this Declaration for animals will be a long
and twisting journey. To illustrate, the Convention on the Rights of
the Child took thirty years of effort before the United Nations
See Appendix 2 for a draft copy of the Universal Declaration on
Arguments For & Against Animal Rights
Listen to people's arguments for and against animal rights. Break
down their arguments into simple statements and add them to these
common outlooks to help argue your own case.
1. Drawing the Line
√ Claim: If we grant rights to animals then eventually even
insects and plants will have rights. That would be ridiculous.
√ Claim: Animal rights encompass animals who are sentient
(chiefly mammals and birds, but also advanced invertebrates like the
octopus, Octopus vulgaris). It is Deep Ecology (see next page) that
makes the case for giving rights to all of nature.
2. Dependency on Animality
√ Claim: Giving rights to animals will severely disrupt
society. We would have to undergo enormous changes if we give rights
to animals. Every use of animals would have to stop and we would not
be able to live normal lives.
√ Claim: Most people may want to give absolute animal rights
where they can and relative animal rights where they cannot. We must
do this with good intention and careful consideration.
3. Moral Sense
√ Claim: Animals have no sense of morality. So they do not
need moral rights.
√ Claim: We support animal rights because we are moral.
Whether or not animals have a sense of morality is not the issue.
√ Claim: Only creatures who comprehend rights can benefit
from them. Only humans understand rights so only humans can have
Claim: Children and severely mentally impaired people cannot
understand rights, yet we do not deny them rights. Therefore we
should not hold back from giving rights to animals because they
cannot comprehend them.
√ Claim: Conferment of rights implies reciprocation. If you
have the right not to be killed then you must respect the right of
others and not kill them. But animals cannot reciprocate so they
should not have rights.
√ Claim: Animal rights are about how humans should treat
animals, not about how animals should treat humans. In any case, we
respect the rights of our future unborn generations and they cannot
6. Biology vs Rationality
Claim: Humans kill and eat animals because we evolved to survive by
exploiting our environment. It is therefore pointless even to
consider giving animals rights and we should continue to exploit
√ Claim: Unlike other animals we are not now constrained
entirely by biological evolution. We can reflect on how we should
act and can make choices on how to behave. Therefore we can behave
morally and give animals rights.
7. Food & Territory
√ Claim: Animals eat each other, so we can eat them. We are
all part of the food web.
√ Claim: Animals kill each other because they have to, for
food or to protect their food supply, or they would die. We can
decide not to eat animals. Vegetarians do not die for lack of meat.
8. Mental Capacity
√ Claim: People have grater mental capacities than animals
and cannot be compared with them. Therefore we should reject animal
√ Claim: We do not use or abuse people who are severely
mentally retarded or in a permanent vegetative state. Many animals
have mental abilities better then these people. So animals also need
9. Species Differences
Claim: Animals and humans are obviously different, so we should
treat animals differently from us.
√ Claim: There is no acceptable difference (whether
intelligence, shape, posture or colour) that can distinguish animals
from people morally. People are also different from each other, so
where do you draw the line?
10. Pain & Suffering
√ Claim: Animals can experience pain and suffering but this
does not mean we have to give them rights, only that we should not
be cruel to them. We can treat animals well and give them adequate
√ Claim: All children have rights under the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by nearly 200
countries. Mentally handicapped people have rights as people. Now we
must broaden our circle of compassion to animals.
√ Claim: Animals are not sentient: they cannot speak, have no
thoughts, feelings, desires, emotions or interests. Therefore we
should reject animal rights.
√ Claim: We should not make our ignorance of animals a basis
for insensitivity. But we know that some animals at least have ideas
and a measure of speech, and that animals have feelings, like a need
to care for their young, remain with their group and feel safe and