Animal Rights

views updated May 23 2018


Protection of animals from cruelty through requirements of humane treatment. Laws protecting animal rights proscribe certain forms of brutal and merciless treatment of animals in medical and scientific research and in the handling of and slaughter of animals for human consumption.

By the end of the 1980s, membership in animal advocacy organizations had reached 10 million people in the United States and opposition to the use of animals in laboratory experiments was rapidly growing. By 1990, some 76 medical schools claimed that demonstrations and break-ins by animal rights advocates had cost them more than $4.5 million, according to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

As the conflict between animal rights activists and medical and scientific researchers has grown, federal and state regulation of activities involving animal research has also expanded. At the federal level, the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C.A. § 2131 et seq. [1994]) regulates the treatment of animals used in federally funded research. Under amendments added to the act in 1985, the secretary of agriculture was required to promulgate standards to govern the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of animals by dealers, research facilities, and exhibitors. These standards were to include minimum requirements for housing, feeding, watering, sanitation, ventilation, shelter from extremes of weather and temperature, adequate veterinary care, and separation by species where necessary; for exercise of dogs, as determined by an attending veterinarian; and for a physical environment adequate to promote the psychological well-being of primates. In addition, the standards were to include requirements for animal care, treatment, and practices in experimental procedures in research facilities.

In February 1991, the secretary of agriculture issued final regulations under the act (56 Fed. Reg. 6426; 9 C.F.R. § 3). Shortly thereafter, two animal rights organizations, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, along with several individuals, sued the u.s. department of agriculture (USDA), claiming that the final regulations were arbitrary and capricious, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) (5 U.S.C.A. § 551 et seq. [1994]). Under the APA, a court can compel agency action that is unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed and can set aside agency action that is arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise in violation of the law.

The plaintiffs challenged the USDA on several grounds, including the lack of minimum requirements regarding exercise for dogs and the psychological well-being of primates; the amount of delay permitted under the regulations in complying with new cage requirements; and the loophole in the regulations' provision for special cage designs, which permitted facilities to evade the existing minimum requirements for cage sizes.

In February 1993, a federal district court found that the USDA's treatment of laboratory animals waiting to be used in biomedical experiments violated federal statutes providing for the humane treatment of such animals. In Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Secretary of Agriculture, 813 F. Supp. 882 (1993), the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the regulations enacted by the secretary of agriculture and the USDA failed to comply with the mandate of Congress to ensure the well-being and humane treatment of animals, notwithstanding the importance of research.

The defendants appealed the district court's decision. In Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Espy, 29 F.3d 720 (1994), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the animal rights organizations and other plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the USDA. (Standing is a legal requirement that the plaintiff must have been injured or threatened with injury by the action complained of and focuses on the question of whether the plaintiff is the proper party to bring the lawsuit.) Because the plaintiffs lacked standing, the court ordered that the case be dismissed.

Whereas the Animal Welfare Act governs the general treatment of research animals, other federal statutes govern the testing procedures that may be used on animals in the course of scientific and commercial research and in product testing. The Toxic Substances Control Act (15 U.S.C.A. § 2601 et seq. [1994]) authorizes the use of two procedures that have been particularly controversial: the Draize test and the lethal dose 50 (LD50) test.

Welcome to the Monkey Lab: The Battle over Animal Research

In May 1981, Alex Pacheco, cofounder of an animal rights organization called people for the ethical treatment of animals (PETA), went to work as a volunteer at the Institute for Behavioral Research, a private research center in Silver Spring, Maryland. Pacheco told the institute's chief research scientist, Edward Taub, that he was fascinated by animal research. Taub's research involved the surgical crippling of monkeys using a procedure called deaf-ferentation, in which the spinal cord is opened and various nerves leading to arms and legs are sliced away, causing numbness.

At the time Pacheco joined his lab, Taub had performed the procedure on 17 macaques, attempting to show that function could be restored to limbs by forcing new nerve growth. He had destroyed the nerves to only one arm on some of the monkeys, and then used straitjackets, binding up the good arms to force the animals to use their damaged arms, and had also applied electric shock to restrained monkeys if they did not move their numbed limbs. Taub planned to kill the monkeys after a year in order to determine whether this forced movement had stimulated nerve growth.

After receiving permission from Taub to work at night, Pacheco set to work documenting the filthy, cramped conditions of the lab, and the stressed behavior of the monkeys, many of which were chewing their numbed limbs open. With his PETA cofounder, Ingrid Newkirk, stationed outside with a walkie-talkie, Pacheco took photographs and brought in sympathetic veterinarians and scientists to provide affidavits about the lab conditions. Several months later, he took his documentation to the local police department, which seized the lab's monkeys and filed 17 charges of animal cruelty against Taub, under state law. The scientist was convicted on all the charges, but an appellate court decided that a federally-funded researcher was not required to comply with state laws. Eventually, Taub's lab lost its federal funding and discontinued animal research.

Many participants in the debate over animal rights view the 1981 seizure of the Silver Spring monkeys as a turning point for the animal rights movement in the United States, heading it in a more combative and less compromising direction.

Animal welfare has long been an issue in the United States. As early as the mid-1600s, the Puritans prohibited cruelty toward animals, and by the nineteenth century, groups such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Anti-Vivisection Society had been organized. Animal experimentation has been controversial not only between the animal rights movement and the scientific and medical research communities but also between the activist groups themselves.

Supporters of the use of animals in research are as adamant in their advocacy of the use of animals in research as animal rights activists are in their opposition to such use. Supporters of the use of animals in research point out that virtually every major advancement in medicine during the past century has been made possible by the use of animals in research. Researchers point out that, with the use of animals as subjects, scientists may be capable of curing or reducing the death and disability rates caused by such diseases as kidney and liver failure, birth defects, cancer, and AIDS. Former U.S. surgeon general Joycelyn Elders said, "The use of animals in biomedical research and testing has been, and will continue to be, absolutely critical to the progress against AIDS and a wide range of other applications in both humans and animals."

The biomedical research industry has responded vigorously to criticisms of animal research. A 1988 study by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, acknowledged the controversy over animal testing, stating that although animal research has saved human lives, it has caused suffering and death for the animals involved. Nevertheless, the study concluded that such experimentation has contributed significantly to the increase in human life expectancy since 1900 and that animals have been critical to research on most antibiotics and other drugs. Frankie Trull, executive director of the National Association for Biomedical Research, has argued that animal testing is necessary to sustain the human race.

Supporters of animal research frequently direct attack towards animal rights activists, often labeling animal rights groups as "extremists." Joseph Murray, who in 1990 won the Nobel Prize for medicine in recognition of his work on organ transplants, said, "None of this could have been done without animal experimentation. It's a tragedy and a waste of resources that scientists have to combat the anti-vivisectionists," referring to animal rights groups. Animal research supporters often argue that the tactics employed by animal rights groups impede the progress being made in the medical community through the use of animals in research.

The supporters of animal research and the animal rights activists have clashed in both the courts and in the legislatures. Concerned that animal rights activists would cause the dismantling of all animal research, the biomedical research community lobbied successfully for years against the passage of all legislation restricting such research. But in the early 1950s, Christine Stevens founded the Animal Welfare Institute and the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, which successfully worked against passage of state laws that would require pounds to turn their dogs and cats over to researchers. Stevens then began working for passage of federal legislation that would also protect laboratory animals. In 1966, Congress enacted the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C.A. § 2131 et seq.[1994]), which regulates the treatment of animals in federally funded research. Congress charged the u.s. department of agriculture (USDA) with overseeing the inspection of laboratories for compliance.

In 1985, after Stevens documented continuing inhumane laboratory conditions, the Animal Welfare Act was amended to strengthen standards for the humane handling, treatment, and transportation of animals by dealers, research facilities, and exhibitors. In 1991, the secretary of agriculture issued regulations implementing the amended act.

During this period, the animal protection movement continued to expand. By the early 1990s, PETA had grown to more than 400,000 members and had an annual budget of nearly $10 million. Over 400 animal rights groups had been organized in the United States, claiming a total membership of 10 million. Although each of these groups can be said to support the humane treatment of animals, their philosophies vary dramatically.

The most radical group is the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an underground organization formed in 1982 with an estimated worldwide membership of several hundred as of the mid-1990s. ALF opposes the use of all animals in medical and scientific research, including psychological and surgical experimentation on living animals; ALF also opposes using animals for testing new drugs and cosmetics, for instructional purposes in biology and medical school classes, and for food, clothing, sports, circuses, and pets. ALF claimed responsibility for more than 75 attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1995, including stealing animals from labs in Arizona, California, Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.; burning and vandalizing the University of Arizona's veterinary lab and a new $3 million veterinary diagnostic center for farm animals at the University of California, Davis; vandalizing offices of researchers and stealing their research animals in Michigan and Texas; and starting small fires in four of Chicago's largest department stores to protest the sale of furs. Although most of ALF's targets have been scientific research labs, the group claimed responsibility for bombing the cars of two research scientists in England in June 1990. ALF has also conducted raids in more than a dozen other countries.

By 1988, in response to raids by ALF and other groups, more than 20 states had enacted protective legislation prohibiting interference with animal research and agricultural facilities. In August 1992, citing the inability of state and local law enforcement agencies to conduct interstate or international investigations, Congress passed comparable federal legislation. The Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992 (18 U.S.C.A. § 43[1994]) prohibits the disruption of "animal enterprises" such as research facilities and zoos by intentionally stealing or damaging property including animals or records.

Many scientists believe that ALF is a thinly disguised division of PETA. PETA denies any connection between the two groups but has expressed its admiration for ALF's activities and often publicizes the group's raids. Both ALF and PETA share a common goal of ending all animal research, a philosophy that represents a fundamental split from other animal rights organizations such as Stevens's Animal Welfare Institute and the Humane Society of the United States, which accept animal experimentation but work for the humane treatment of animals in that and other contexts.

Supporters of animal research debunk many of the claims of animal rights activities as pure myths. For instance, animal rights activists often direct their attention towards the use of such animals as dogs, cats, and non-human primates in medical research, but scientists point out that the use of such animals accounts for less than 1 percent of the total number of animals used in research. The vast majority of animals used in research, according to these scientists, are rodents, including mice and rats bred specifically for the purpose of testing them. Similarly, these scientists refute animal rights advocates' claims that alternatives to animal research exist in the form of computer models and tissue cultures but that the scientific community refuses to accept them. Scientists claim that even the most sophisticated technological model cannot replicate the genetic and physiological systems of humans as those found in live animals. According to the Foundation for Biomedical Research, the limitations in the use of computer models and other alternatives may overcome the need for animals in research, but these alternative methods serve only as adjuncts to basic animal research.

In a nationwide survey conducted in December 1993 by the Los Angeles Times, respondents were asked whether they agreed with the following statement by PETA's Newkirk: "Animals are like us in all important things—they feel pain, act with altruism, they talk and suffer fear. They value their lives, even if we don't understand those lives." Of the 1,612 adults polled, 47 percent agreed with Newkirk's statement and 51 percent disagreed. The survey also found that 54 percent opposed hunting for sport and 50 percent opposed the wearing of fur. Forty-six percent said the laws protecting animals from inhumane treatment were satisfactory, whereas 30 percent said the laws did not go far enough, and 17 percent said the laws went too far. Animal rights leaders expressed surprise that so many Americans agreed with some of the principle tenets of the animal protection movement.

A new wrinkle in the Animal Rights movement has been the attempt to gain the recognition of legal rights for animals. Animal rights advocates in both PETA and ALF had spoken for years about the need for animals to have legal rights under U.S. law. But this theory remained abstract until the end of the twentieth century.

Then in 2000, Stephen Wise published an influential animal rights book. Rattling the Cage: Toward Legal Rights for Animals took a legalistic approach in arguing that at least two human-like species, chimpanzees and bonobos, and perhaps other species that were similarly developed, should be considered "persons". The book was reviewed in such noted publications as the Yale Law Journal and the Harvard Law Review. Among those legal scholars discussing the book were richard posner, eminent professor at the University of Chicago law school and judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Lawrence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard University.

Tribe seemed especially taken with the book's arguments. "Broadening the circle of rights-holders, or even broadening the definition of persons, I submit, is largely a matter of acculturation," said Tribe in a speech in Boston in support of the book. "It is not a matter of breaking through something, like a conceptual sound barrier. With the aid of statutes like those creating corporate persons, our legal system could surely recognize the personhood of chimpanzees, bonobos, and maybe someday of computers that are capable not just of beating Gary Kasparov but feeling sorry for him when he loses."

In 2002, Wise published a book called Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights, in which he expanded his rights arguments to include other species. But the arguments remained very similar. "On what nonarbitrary ground," he asks, "could a judge find [that a] little girl has a common-law right to bodily integrity that forbids her use in terminal biomedical research but that Koko [a gorilla with an IQ equal to that of a 4- or 5-year-old child] shouldn't have that right, without violating basic notions of equality?" What influence this nascent movement for the legal rights of animals has on the general animal rights movement promised to be interesting to observe.

Many legal commentators have been supportive or, at least, sympathetic toward the views of Wise and writers with similar opinions. Other legal scholars, on the other hand, have pointed out that granting broad rights to animals conflicts with some of the basic assumptions of the U.S. legal system, as well as the legal system elsewhere. Even where laws provide heightened protection for animals against abuse, the animals are still treated as a special form of property. If the law were to extend recognition of animals as holders of certain legal rights, their status as something greater than property raises difficult questions. For instance, when would these rights conflict with recognized human rights, and could the right of an animal in a certain case be greater than a right enjoyed by a human? Likewise, how can society merge the recognition of animal rights with the traditional, and in some cases, fundamental uses of animals, including their functions as sources of food and as goods and services that may be bartered? Scholarship and debate by legal experts continues to grow regarding these questions.

further readings

Carbone, Larry. 2004. What Animals Want: Expertise and Advocacy in Laboratory Animal Welfare Policy. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Monamay, Vaughn. 2000. Animal Experimentation: A Guide to the Issues. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

The Draize test measures the irritancy of a substance such as a cosmetic or pesticide by applying it to the eyes of live rabbits for twenty-four hours. The LD50 test is used to calculate the median lethal dose of a substance by feeding it to a defined population of animals until 50 percent of them die. Some product manufacturers, such as Avon Products, Revlon, Faberge, Amway Corporation, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and Noxell Corporation, have discontinued some or all animal testing as a result of continued protests over the use of these tests.

During the late 1980s, the federal bureau of investigation reported more than fifty incidents of vandalism annually at research facilities and attacks on researchers themselves. In response, the U.S. Congress and numerous state legislatures enacted protective legislation. In August 1992, Congress passed the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (18 U.S.C.A. § 43[1994]), which provides, in part, that anyone who "intentionally causes physical disruption to the functioning of an animal enterprise by intentionally stealing, damaging, or causing the loss of any property (including animals or records) used by the animal enterprise, and thereby causes economic damage exceeding $10,000 to that enterprise, or conspires to do so shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both."

If serious bodily injury or death to another person occurs in the course of the prohibited activity, the statute provides for imprisonment up to a life term. The act defines an animal enterprise as "(A) a commercial or academic enterprise that uses animals for food or fiber production, agriculture, research, or testing; (B) a zoo, aquarium, circus, rodeo, or lawful competitive animal event; or (C) any fair or similar event intended to advance agricultural arts and sciences."

By 1995, more than 20 states had passed similar legislation, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.

Several states also regulate the use of animals kept in pounds for use in research. Maine prohibits the use of pound animals for any research (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 17, § 1025 [West 1994]). California requires that any pound or animal regulation department where animals are turned over to a research facility post a sign stating "Animals Turned in to This Shelter May Be Used for Research Purposes," in a clearly visible place (Cal. Civ. Code § 1834.7 [West 1994]). In Oklahoma, pounds are required to supply unclaimed animals to research institutions, unless the owner of an animal bringing it to the pound specifies it is not to be used in research (Okla. Stat. Ann. tit. 4, § 394 [West 1994]).

At least three states regulate the sale of animals to research facilities. Minnesota law prohibits the transfer of a dog or cat by a person other than the owner to a research animal dealer, the possession of a dog or cat by a dealer without the owner's permission, or the transfer of a dog or cat by a dealer to an institution without the owner's permission (Minn. Stat. Ann. §346.55 [West 1994]). California law provides that anyone who steals an animal for purposes of sale, medical research, or other commercial use, or who knowingly defrauds another person of any animal for purposes of medical research or slaughter, may be imprisoned for up to one year (Cal. Penal Code § 487g [West 1994]). New York law prohibits the selling or giving away of a dog to a research institution without the written permission of its owner (N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 366-a [McKinney 1994]).

On the federal level, the Animal Welfare Act was amended in 1990 to regulate the use of pound animals in research. A new section titled "Protection of pets" provides that dogs and cats acquired by a pound, humane society, or similar entity or research facility must be held for not less than five days before being sold to dealers, so as to allow their recovery by their owners or their adoption by other individuals (7 U.S.C.A. § 2158 [1994]).

The use of animals in scientific, medical, and commercial research is expected to remain controversial. In her book The Monkey Wars, Deborah Blum advocated that animal rights activists and researchers share their viewpoints together in education programs to achieve a realistic understanding of the issues. According to Blum, such an understanding could end the two sides' long and bitter standoff.

The largest and most active animal rights group is people for the ethical treatment of animals (PETA), originally founded in 1980 in Norfolk, Virginia. Since its founding, PETA has claimed a certain level of success in curbing

unethical treatment of animals. Its self-proclaimed successes include the closing of the largest horse slaughterhouse in the United States, the closing of a military laboratory where animals were shot, and the end of the use of cats and dogs in wound laboratories. PETA not only details its "victories" on its web site, it also provides "action alerts" that identify instances that the group believes constitute animal cruelty.

Although PETA has had a significant impact on the use of animals in medical and scientific research, as well as other uses, its tactics have created an equal level of controversy. For instance, according to PETA president Ingrid Newkirk, human beings should not drink milk produced by cows, eat turkey meat, or wear fur because of the practices involved in preparing these goods. PETA's protests have ranged from vandalizing fur coats sold at a Macy's outlet in Boston to advocating the bombing of a New Jersey laboratory that uses animals for research. PETA claims that it does not support terrorism, but it has funded, for example, the legal defense of an arsonist that set fire to a Michigan research lab.

PETA has been active in the court system, with various levels of success. In one case, PETA sought entry into a public art event held in 2000 in New York City called "CowParade." One of PETA's entries showed a cow divided into sections that resembled a butcher's chart. On each of the sections was a statement or quotation "concerning the health and ethical problems associated with the killing of cows for food." The committee responsible for the parade rejected the entry as too harsh and inappropriate for the parade. PETA brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, but the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the parade organizers, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the summary judgment. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals v. Giuliani, 18 Fed. App. 35 (2d Cir. 2001).

further readings

Blum, Deborah. 1995. The Monkey Wars. Don Mills, ON, Canada: Oxford Univ. Press.

Congressional Record. 1990. 136 (July).

Kistler, John M. 2000. Animal Rights: A Subject Guide, Bibliography, and Internet Comparison. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood.

Sherry, Clifford J. 1994. Animal Rights: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO.

Singer, Peter. 1975. Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals. New York: Avon.


Agriculture Department; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Animal Rights

views updated May 09 2018


It is only recently, and in response to their perceived mistreatment by humans, especially in processes of industrial agricultural production and scientific research, that rights have been ascribed to animals. The concept remains contentious, especially insofar as in radical forms it would severely restrict the use of animals in scientific research and elsewhere, but has been defended on a number of grounds.

Historical Developments

The debate over whether animals possess rights must be viewed against the background of the ubiquitous use of animals to meet human needs and desires throughout history. Although interpreted in various ways, the status of animals is a significant economic and cultural category in every human society. Because the human connection to animals runs so deep, our shared history may amount to a form of coevolution: The selective breeding of domestic species has rendered them substantially different from their wild counterparts, and the effects of domestication on human social evolution have been profound, perhaps defining. At a minimum, because the benefits of this relationship are mutual (although rarely equal), domestication invites comparison to symbiosis.

However, because of the uniquely powerful effect of this symbiotic relationship, technological models contribute to the understanding of domestication. The environmental ethicist J. Baird Callicott (1980) argues that domesticated animals are essentially human inventions and should be viewed as technologies in their own right, to be evaluated in terms of their environmental impact. To a very different effect, the critic Donna J. Haraway (2003) uses the image of the cyborg to capture the complex layers of culture, nature, and technology that define both human and animal reality. This complexity is not limited to the special cases of genetically modified lab mice and artificial heart recipients: Haraway argues that humans and the "companion species" they have bred to work and live with them are equally significant others in an ecosystem that straddles the technological and the biological.

This multilayered, ambiguous relationship between humans and animals has both insulated animal exploitation from moral assessment, and made the assessment maddeningly complex. Any complacency over the possible rights of animals has been shaken over the last three centuries in light of some of the troubling effects of industrialization, including the physical and psychological pressures placed on domesticated animals in technologically intensive economies, and threats to the very survival of wild animal species. It is no coincidence that arguments on behalf of the moral claims of animals have risen in proportion to the distance that industrialization has placed between humans and the natural world.

The idea that animals deserve moral attention is not exclusively modern, however, but has been explored throughout European intellectual history; Pythagoras and Porphyry provided early philosophical arguments that using animals for food is morally problematic. Nonetheless, much of the tradition followed Aristotle in rejecting such arguments. His contention that non-human animals categorically lack reason and intellect was used for centuries to justify a moral divide between humans and animals: Irrational animals are natural slaves, and no positive human moral or political categories can govern humankind's relations with them.

Because it harmonized with the Judeo-Christian contention that God gave humans dominion over animals, this model of human/animal relations held sway through much of medieval Christendom. Despite the force of this tradition, a vocal minority argued that Western monotheism can and should accommodate moral concern for animals. (A contemporary example is Andrew Linzey (1994), who argues that animals possess theos-rights, and are owed justice simply in virtue of being creatures of the Creator.) This is noteworthy because the roots of the modern analysis of animal rights precede the Industrial Revolution, beginning in England with a sixteenth-century theological debate over whether animals are restored through the Incarnation. This debate expanded over the centuries that followed, inducing various English theologians, literary figures, political scholars, and philosophers to offer new analyses of the moral status of animals.

The result of these efforts was a sustained attempt to rethink the traditional Aristotelian position, and an intellectual climate ripe for the concept of animal rights. By the nineteenth century, the first animal advocacy groups were formed to speak out against the abuse of draft animals and to oppose vivisection, and the first modern legal protections of animals were established.

Basic Theories

The philosophical development in this period that had the greatest influence on subsequent discussion of animal rights is the advent of utilitarianism. Unlike other ethical theories that argue moral goods are the exclusive products of humans' rational nature, the early utilitarians held that the highest moral good is the happiness that results from maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. Given the legacy of Aristotle, the claim that non-humans possess anything comparable to the higher cognitive faculties of humans is unavoidably controversial; in comparison, the claim that animals seek comfort and shun suffering is an easy sell. Thus animal advocates found in utilitarianism a fitting ethical theory to make their case. As Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), the father of utilitarianism, famously asserted, "The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. ... [T]he question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"(Principles of Morals and Legislation, Chapter 17 1789).

Despite these bold words, Bentham was unopposed to using animals in science and agriculture. It would fall to later thinkers to argue that utilitarianism should force us to rethink these institutions. The most important figure to do so is the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, whose Animal Liberation, originally published in 1975, inspired much of the subsequent attention the issue has received. Making use of graphic depictions of how livestock are treated in intensive feeding operations, and the painful effects of product testing and medical and psychological research on primates and other mammals, Singer argues that the equal consideration of a sentient animal's interest in avoiding suffering renders these common practices seriously immoral. To defend this conclusion, he offers the following analogy: Racism and sexism are immoral positions because they give undue importance to the morally irrelevant properties of race and gender; likewise, those who fail to extend moral consideration to other animals simply because of their species membership are guilty of a heretofore unrecognized offense: speciesism. Because modern science and industry routinely exploit animals in ways we would be loath to treat humans of comparable sentience (such as those with severe mental impairment), there are few citizens of modern industrialized societies whose lives are unaffected by speciesist practices.

While Singer's argument is the most famous in the contemporary debates, he makes clear that his conclusions do not hinge on the concept of animal rights per se, of which he is dubious. Those who try to make the explicit case for rights have generally followed Singer's lead by attempting to extend moral concepts traditionally reserved for humans to cover our treatment of animals as well. Callicott has termed this general approach extensionism. For example, Aristotelian ethics holds that the moral good for humans (virtue) is related to our final cause, the natural end or function that defines us (rationality). Bernard E. Rollin (1992) argues that this model can be extended to provide the basis for a theory of animal rights: He claims that moral concepts apply to our treatment of animals not simply because they can experience pleasure and pain, but because they, like us, have natural ends or functions that they have an interest in fulfilling. He concludes the most effective way of solidifying this concern is the establishment of legal and political rights for animals. Mark Rowlands (1998) forms an analogous argument to those of Singer and Rollin by extending social contract theory to articulate the rights of animals.

Some extensionists and many laypersons use the term animal rights as shorthand for the moral consideration humans owe animals, but they do not all envision the moral claims of animals as fully comparable to the natural rights that modern liberalism has ascribed to humans. Such a vision has been articulated by Tom Regan (2004). Rejecting the utilitarianism of Singer, Regan's argument extends the deontological theory of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), which holds that all humans have an inherent right to moral respect in virtue of their rational nature. Regan argues that it is arbitrary to limit such respect to those who possess rationality; many humans cannot be described as fully rational, yet we do not therefore subject them to painful experiments or use them for food. Regan argues that all animals to which we can ascribe preferences qualify as subjects of a life; he claims this will include most mature mammals. All such beings, he concludes, have an inherent value that grounds natural rights to life and autonomy comparable to those of humans.

Critical Assessment

If any of these extensionist arguments are sound, it will require serious reappraisal of the place of domestic animals in society, and of human behavior toward wild animals. In its strongest forms, the claim that animals have rights implies that all forms of animal exploitation are seriously immoral: Vegetarianism is morally obligatory, all animal testing should be proscribed, and wild animals have a right to be left free of all human interference. At a minimum, granting that animals have some claim to direct moral attention would not only allow us to condemn overt acts of animal cruelty, but also raise serious doubts about the use of intensive industrial techniques in animal husbandry (factory farming), the use of animals to test medical technologies from which they will not benefit, and the genetic modification of animals to enhance their usefulness to humans. Although it is not clear where the moral limits to animal exploitation lie, there is a growing consensus that such limits do exist and that it is important that they be clarified.

But is the case for animal rights sound? Critics fall into two camps. First, those who uphold the traditional position argue that extending rights theory to animals goes too far. The category of rights emerged for the kinds of beings that only humans are: free, rational, autonomous agents who can form agreements, respect each other's interests, and operate politically. These critics argue that to apply the concept of rights to animals that do not have these attributes is to extend it beyond coherence. For some in this camp, the ground of their objections is metaethical: Their concern is the nature of moral language and whether it can have any meaning when extended to nonhumans. Others dispute the empirical bases of extensionist arguments, namely that animals possess psychological attributes—consciousness, capacity to suffer, subjectivity, personhood—that are morally relevant. Because the sciences of ethology, animal psychology, and animal welfare are relatively young, there is at present no consensus on which animals possess such attributes, or whether any nonhumans possess them to a degree that is morally significant. Thus, the status of debate on this point is ambiguous: Extensionists can muster enough empirical evidence to give their conclusions some rational support, but not enough to prove that the traditional position is unsustainable.

Second, other critics have argued that the concept of animal rights does not go far enough in expressing the value that animals possess and the challenge that it poses to humans. Some environmental ethicists (including deep ecologists and ecofeminists) have argued that because our moral categories are purely human creations, products of the same cultural tradition that sanctioned animal exploitation for millennia, they cannot simply be extended to cover animals, but must be radically rethought. Extensionism implies that animals are valuable to the extent that they can be assimilated to human moral reasoning, but there is another, more radical possibility: that animals should be valued for their differences from humans, and for those aspects of animal reality that lie beyond the reach of the traditional moral and political categories of humankind. Perhaps respecting animals is not simply a matter of protecting them from the effects of humankind's dependence on technology; by inviting us to appreciate the type of reality they occupy, a space where both technological and moral devices are unnecessary, animals may help us develop a critical perspective on the ends of human civilization.


SEE ALSO Agricultural Ethics;Animal Experimentation;Animal Welfare;Consequentialism;Deontology;Pets.


Callicott, J. Baird. (1980). "Animal Liberation: A Triangular Affair." Environmental Ethics 2(4). Offers a criticism of animal rights arguments from the perspective of environmental ethics.

Cohen, Carl, and Tom Regan. (2001). The Animal Rights Debate. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield. A clear synopsis of the core arguments on both sides of the animal rights debate.

Fellenz, Marc R. (2006). The Moral Menagerie: Philosophy and Animal Rights. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Surveys and assesses major arguments in the contemporary debate, and analyzes the importance of the debate for philosophy.

Haraway, Donna J. (2003). The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.

Linzey, Andrew. (1994). Animal Theology. Champaign: University of Illinois Press. Develops the case for animal rights in the context of Christian theology.

Linzey, Andrew, and Dorothy Yamamoto, eds. (1998). Animals on the Agenda: Questions about Animals for Theology and Ethics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Essays by various authors exploring the implications of animal rights for ethics, theology, and human culture.

Miller, Harlan B., and William H. Williams, eds. (1983). Ethics and Animals. Clifton, NJ: Humana Press. A valuable selection of philosophically sophisticated essays on the possible rights of animals, the meaning of human/animal relations, and various forms of animal exploitation.

Regan, Tom. (2004). The Case for Animal Rights, 2nd edition. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. The clearest articulation of the strong animal rights position.

Rollin, Bernard E. (1992). Animal Rights and Human Morality, rev. edition. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books. Argues that the telic nature of animals requires any adequate moral theory to address their interests, and makes the case for the legal rights of animals.

Rowland, Mark. (1998). Animal Rights: A Philosophical Defence. St. Martin's Press. Uses contract theory as the basis for understanding the rights of animals.

Singer, Peter. (1990). Animal Liberation, 2nd edition. New York: Random House. The foundational work of the recent debate (originally published in 1975), provides details on the nature of modern animal exploitation, and argues that the failure to give equal consideration to the interests of animals is as morally suspect as racism and sexism.

Animal Rights

views updated Jun 08 2018

Animal Rights

The modern animal rights movement, which originated in the 1970s, may be understood as a reaction to dominant emphases within science and religion (principally, though not exclusively, Christianity). When the Jesuit Joseph Rickaby wrote in 1888 that "Brute beasts, not having understanding and therefore not being persons, cannot have any rights" and that we have "no duties of charity or duties of any kind to the lower animals as neither to stocks and stones" (Moral Philosophy, vol. II, pp. 2489), he was only articulating, albeit in an extreme form, the moral insensitivity that has characterized the Western view of animals.

That insensitivity is the result of an amalgam of influences. The first, and for many years the most dominant, was the "other worldly" or "world denying" tendency in Christianity, which has, at its worst, denigrated the value of earthly things in comparison with things spiritual. Traditional Catholicism has divided the world into those beings that possess reason and therefore immortal souls, and those that do not. The result of this schema has inevitably been disadvantageous to animals who have been regarded as bereft of an interior spiritual life, as well as the benefits of immortality. Christian spirituality has not consciously been at home with the world of non-human creatureseither animal or vegetable. Classic accounts of eternal life as found in Augustine of Hippo (354430), Thomas Aquinas (c. 12251274), or John Calvin (15091564) make little or no reference to the world of animals. Animals, it seems, are merely transient or peripheral beings in an otherwise wholly human-centric economy of salvation.

The second ideacommon to Christianity, Judaism, and Islamis that animals, along with vegetables and minerals, exist instrumentally in relation to human beings; they are made for human beings, even belong to human beings, as resources in creation. This idea predates Christianity and is found notably in Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.), who argues that "since nature makes nothing to no purpose, it must be that nature has made them [animals and plants] for the sake of man" (The Politics, 1, viii). This idea, largely unsupported by scripture, was nevertheless taken over by Aquinas, who conceived of creation as a rational hierarchy in which the intellectually inferior existed for the sake of the intellectually superior. Hence Aquinas posits that "It is not wrong for man to make use of them [animals] either by killing or in any other way whatever" (Summa contra Gentiles, Third Book, Part II, cvii).

Such instrumentalism, which features rationality as the key factor dividing human beings from "brute beasts," has in turn buttressed the third influence, namely the notion of human superiority in creation. Human superiority need not, by itself, have led to the neglect of animal life, but when combined with the biblical ideas of being made "in the image of God" (Gen. 1: 2627) and God's preferential choice to become incarnate in human form, some sense of moral as well as theological ascendancy was indicated. As a result, Christianity, and to a lesser extent Judaism, have been characterized historically by an overwhelming concern for humanity in creation rather than an egalitarian concern for all forms of God-given life. That humans are more important than animals, and that they self-evidently merit moral solicitude in a way that animals cannot, has become religious doctrine. Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) maintains that "it is . . . unworthy to spend money on them [animals] that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery" (para. 2418).

These influences have in turn enabled and justified the scientific exploration of the natural world and specifically the subjection of animals to experimentation. Francis Bacon (15611626) pursued his scientific investigations in the belief that humanity should "recover that right over nature which belongs to it by divine bequest" (Thoughts and Conclusions on the Interpretation of Nature, IV, p. 294). Since animals were made for human use and are incapable of rationality or the possession of an immortal soul, it was only a short philosophical step to conceive of them as automata devoid of self-consciousness, even incapable of pain. René Descartes (15961650) famously likened the movements of a swallow to the workings of a clock, and maintained that "There is no prejudice to which we are more accustomed from our earliest years than the belief that dumb animals think" (Philosophical Letters, 1649.). Physiologist Claude Bernard (18131878) completed the scientific objectification of animals by pursuing ruthless vivisections of living animals, and inaugurating an era in which experimental science, following theology, became largely blind to the sufferings of non-human creatures.

Yet, if science and religion have provided the dominant influences against which animal rights advocates react, they have also variously provided some key justifications for a contemporary animal rights position. Although Charles Darwin (18091882) cannot be counted an animal rights advocate (since he shot birds for sport and was not wholly opposed to vivisection), his theory of evolution challenged prevailing religious notions of a difference in kind between humans and animals. In so doing, he laid the foundation for a less hierarchical view of creation and encouraged subsequent discoveries of similarities between species. The irony is that a century of (often abusive) experimental work on animals has demonstrated the range and complexity of their behavior.

It is increasingly difficult to deny self-consciousness, mental states, and emotional complexity to other mammals. Indeed, there is a consensus now among scientists that animals suffer fear, anxiety, trauma, shock, terror, stress, and suffer only to a greater or lesser degree than humans do. Although the case for animal rights does not depend upon any exact similarity between "them" and "us" (except the need for sentiency, defined as the capacity to experience suffering), the question has to be asked: Given what we know now of the similar biological capacities of humans and animals, how can we justify a total difference in our moral treatment of them?

Similarly, religious traditions, especially Christianity, have rekindled more generous insights about animals. Chief among these are the notions that animals too are created by God and have intrinsic value and that human "dominion" over animals means exercising a God-given responsibility of care, and, not least of all, an appreciation that there are moral limits to what humans may do to other creatures. Such a notion of moral limits is explicit in the Hebrew Bible and has formed the basis of the traditional rabbinic injunction not to cause animals unnecessary suffering. Although it came rather late in the day, the humanitarian movement of the nineteenth century in England and the United States focussed religious sensibilities on the suffering of innocents (children as well as animals). Both Christians and Jews, including Arthur Broome and Lewis Gompertz, were involved in the foundation in London in 1824 of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the world's first national animal welfare organization. Some modern theologians have argued that there is a specifically theological basis for animal rights based on God's prior right as creator to have what is created treated with respect.

Although people in Eastern countries, dominated by the religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, have in practice treated animals with as little respect as people in Western countries, their religions have nevertheless retained notions of respect and nonviolence (ahimsa ) toward animal, as well as human, life. In the doctrine of samsara (reincarnation) a continuity of soulfulness is presupposed (however much it may presuppose a moral hierarchy of life itself), and in Buddhism the first precept against killing is still normative. Specifically, the bodhisattva's example of compassionate postponement of buddhahood in order to liberate other suffering beings is a powerful religious ideal expressing the regard that the strong ought to have for the weak.

This ideal also expresses the best in traditional Jewish and Christian theology as summed up in the line that the "good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" ( John 10: 11). Our very God-given power over animals should inspire a view of ourselves not as the "master species but rather as the servant species" (Linzey 1994, p. 45). The irony for animal rights advocates is that traditions that have supported and justified animal abuse also contain within themselves the seeds of an enlightened, even generous, attitude toward the non-human.

see also aristotle; augustine; buddhism; christianity, roman catholic, issues in science and religion; darwin, charles; descartes, renÉ; hinduism; imago dei; judaism; primatology; soul; thomas aquinas


bacon, francis. thoughts and conclusions on the interpretation of nature, iv. in the works of francis bacon, eds. j. spedding, r.l. ellis and d.d. heath. london: 1857.

bekoff, marc. minding animals: awareness, emotions, and heart. oxford: oxford university press, 2002.

catechism of the catholic church (english translation). vatican city: libreria editrice vaticana, 1994. available from:

chapple, christopher k. non-violence to animals, earth, and self in asian traditions. albany: state university of new york press, 1993.

degrazia, david. taking animals seriously: mental life and moral status. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press, 1996.

descartes, rené. letter to henry moore. february 5, 1649. in descartes: philosophical letters, trans. and ed. anthony kenny. oxford: the clarendon press, 1970; extract in animal rights and human obligations, second edition, eds. tom regan and peter singer. new york: prentice-hall, 1989.

griffin, donald r. animal thinking. cambridge, mass.: harvard university press, 1984.

klug, brian, "lab animals, francis bacon, and the culture of science." in judaism and animal rights: classical and contemporary readings, ed. roberta kalechofsky. marblehead, mass.: micah, 1992.

linzey, andrew. christianity and the rights of animals. london: spck, 1987; new york: crossroad, 1991.

linzey, andrew. animal theology. london: scm press, 1994; chicago: university of illinois press, 1995.

linzey, andrew, and cohn-sherbok, dan. after noah: animals and the liberation of theology. london: mowbay, 1997.

linzey, andrew, and yamamoto, dorothy, eds. animals on the agenda: questions about animals for theology and ethics. london: scm press; chicago: university of illinois press, 1998.

parker, taylor; mitchell, robert w.; and boccia, maria, eds. self-awareness in animals and humans: developmental perspectives. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press, 1994.

rachels, james. created from the animals: the moral implications of darwinism. oxford: oxford university press, 1991.

rickaby, joseph. moral philosophy. vol. ii. london: longmans, 1888.

rollin, bernard e. the unheeded cry: animal consciousness, animal pain, and science. oxford: oxford university press, 1989.

salisbury, joyce e. the beast within: animals in the middle ages. london and new york: routledge, 1994.

schochet, elijah judah. animal life in the jewish tradition: attitudes and relationships. new york: ktav, 1984.

thomas, keith. man and the natural world: changing attitudes in england, 15001800. london: allen lane, 1983.

webb, stephen h. on god and dogs: a christian theology of compassion for animals. oxford: oxford university press, 1998.

andrew linzey

Animal Rights

views updated Jun 11 2018

Animal Rights

The opinions regarding animals and their rights greatly vary. To some, animals have no rights and are merely a form of property that exists only to fulfill human needs. To others, they are creatures that can be used or owned by people, but which also have feelings and are not to be subjected to needless suffering or pain. (Some would say that people with this belief are animal welfare, as opposed to animal rights, advocates.) Finally, there are those who believe that at least certain animals, such as those with sophisticated levels of intelligence and emotions (including nonhuman primates such as monkeys and chimpanzees), are not property at all nor meant to be utilized by man in any way. Such people believe that these animals are entitled to fundamental moral and legal rights that are currently accorded only to humans.

The animal rights movement includes many different organizations. In the United States alone, more than 100 groups are interested in the welfare of animals, and the focus of their activities and their tactics vary widely. For example, the Humane Society uses public education to promote responsible pet ownership, eliminate pain and cruelty in hunting and animal research, and advance similar causes. In contrast, the Animal Liberation Front commits illegal acts such as break-ins, the destruction of property, and the releasing of animals in its efforts to end all forms of what it considers to be animal exploitation.

Opponents to the animal rights movement also vary. Some see it as a group of do-gooders who are interfering with their right to treat or use their property as they wish. Others believe that the movement (or at least a part of it) consists of extremists who threaten the economic, political, and religious institutions in our country. Virtually every other country has one or more anticruelty statutes that prohibits the mistreatment of animals, but the provisions and effectiveness of those laws vary greatly. Many nations also have organizations that are interested in protecting the welfare of animals. Aside from the United States, the animal rights movement is most active in Canada, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Historical Groundwork

Humans have long used animals for a variety of purposes. For hundreds of thousands of years, people have hunted for food and clothing. Between 10,000 and 18,000 years ago, humans began to domesticate animals such as dogs, goats, sheep, and chickens as beasts of burden and as food. For at least 2,500 years, animals have been used in circuses and other forms of entertainment. In the second century C.E., the Greek scientist Galen conducted some of the first medical experiments on living animals.


The ancient Greeks believed that nonhuman creatures were created by the gods to be used however people wished. According to the Bible, God gave man dominion "over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the Earth and over every creeping things that creeps on the Earth" (Gen. 9.1-3). This statement reflects the understanding of the ancient Israelites of how the world began, of why humankind hunted and domesticated the animals for food and clothing, and of how God provided for the human race which He made in His image. These same principles were in the laws of the ancient Greeks and Romans, which then evolved into or influenced the laws of the various western European countries (including England's common law) and those nations in the New World that were settled by western Europeans. For hundreds of years, no act committed upon an animal was prohibited, no matter how cruel or unnecessary.

New ideas.

The concept that animals have rights is relatively new. The first animal-protection law in western civilization was adopted in 1641 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This law made it illegal to "exercise any Tirranny or Crueltie towards any bruite Creature which are usuallie kept for man's use." However, the rest of the western world continued as before. Indeed, during most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many experiments were conducted using living animals. This was largely because of the new idea that scientific conclusions had to be based on observable facts and because the dissection of human bodies and the use of living people in medical experiments were illegal. This meant that scientists had to experiment with animals to learn more about physiology and anatomy. There were no controls on how these experiments were conducted, but there were few qualms because most believed that animals had no souls and, thus, felt no pain.

Ironically, these very experiments proved that animals do experience pain. By the end of the eighteenth century, many argued that animal abuse contributed to a person's cruelty. Others said that the mistreatment of animals was a misuse of a gift from God. In 1789, the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham became the first to say that animals have rights. According to Bentham, animals suffer pain just as humans and thus deserve the same freedom from pain.

Modern Movements

Slowly, most people came to accept Bentham's idea. Maine adopted the first modern anticruelty law in the United States in 1821, and every other state eventually enacted similar legislation. To encourage the police to enforce these laws, private organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) were created throughout the last third of the nineteenth century. In addition, since World War II, a number of federal animal-rights laws have been adopted. These laws regulate animal experimentation and the treatment of animals by medical research facilities, slaughterhouses, and circuses, as well as people such as animal dealers who use animals as a source of livelihood.

Protection of animals.

Many groups concerned with the treatment and welfare of animals still believe in the superiority of humans and the right to use other living creatures to meet human needs. However, in 1975, the Australian philosopher Peter Singer argued that animals are entitled to live free from the infliction of pain and suffering, whether from animal experimentation, the raising of animals for food, or other causes.

Eight years later, the American philosopher Thomas Regan argued that every individual animal has an inherent value and thus has moral rights that should not be violated even if to do so benefits society. The ideas of both Singer and Regan provide the basis for those who argue that animals have rights that must be observed and protected as opposed to those who believe that it is all right to use animals so long as it is done without cruelty.

State and Federal Statutes

The provisions of anticruelty statutes vary state to state. In addition, the effectiveness of these laws depends to a large degree on whether one believes animals are property and whether there should be limits on how to use animals to meet human needs. Many of these laws were written about 100 years ago and have rarely been amended. Some are only a few paragraphs long. Most statutes contain broad exemptions that usually include agricultural practices (e.g., dehorning, castration, docking, and limiting feed) as well as hunting and scientific experiments.

Even when an anticruelty law does not have exemptions, the courts have often created them by ruling that the statutes do not prohibit the infliction of pain, suffering, or death so long as it is not outside the traditionally accepted use of animals. In addition, while some laws define "animals" as all living creatures other than man, some laws apply only to warm-blooded vertebrate animals. Others list specific animals or types of animals that the provisions do or do not protect.

In a few states, persons are guilty of violating the anticruelty statutes if they are criminally or unreasonably negligent in their treatment of an animal. Most states, however, require that the defendant have some form of intent before a conviction can be obtained. For instance, if a jurisdiction requires willful intent, then the prosecutor must prove not only that the defendant acted intentionally and voluntarily, but also that the defendant acted without just cause or reason. In one case in North Carolina, two dog trainers were found not guilty of violating the local anticruelty law when they beat a dog and submersed its head under water because they did it to teach the animal not to dig holes.

In most states, violations of anticruelty laws are considered as summary offenses, which only involve a fine, or as misdemeanors with penalties that do not exceed a year in jail and a fine. Some states have recently made the violation of these laws a felony, but it is not yet known if this will make any substantial difference in the obedience to, or the enforcement of, the statutes. Most police and prosecutors are not very concerned about crimes against animals and are reluctant to spend the time or the money to make arrests or to take the cases to court. As a result, the enforcement of the anticruelty laws is frequently left to such organizations as the Humane Society and the ASPCA.

Animals and science.

Since World War II, the number of scientific experiments involving animals has increased dramatically. Although the number of animals used in these experiments is just a small percentage of the millions killed every year for the benefit of humans for food and other reasons (such as clothing and the use of animal fats, oils, bones, and other byproducts in the manufacture of commercial goods), much of the recent focus of the animal rights movement has been on attempts to prohibit experimentation on live animals.

In addition to the state anticruelty statutes, animal experimentation is governed by the federal Animal Welfare Act which was enacted in 1966 and substantially amended in 1985. This law and its accompanying administrative regulations prohibit the use of animals in a scientific experiment if a nonanimal alternative is readily available. Scientists are also required to keep an animal's pain to a minimum, and to consider alternatives to any procedure that causes pain or distress. However, the law does not apply to rats or mice, the animals used most often in experiments, nor does it limit the type of experiments that may be conducted.

In the last decade of the 20th century, groups such as the Animal Liberation Front have used illegal means to fight what they believe is animal exploitation. In response, many states have adopted laws that specifically target these activities. The federal government has also enacted the Animal Enterprise Protection Act (1992). This law makes it a crime to cross a state border with the intent to physically disrupt zoos, aquariums, or similar public attractions, as well as to physically disrupt commercial or academic facilities that use animals for food production, research, or testing.

see also Animal Testing; Bioethics.

Mark A. Thorburn


Bloyd, Sunni. Animal Rights. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, Inc., 1990.

Day, Nancy. Animal Experimentation: Cruelty or Science? Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1994.

Francione, Gary L. Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.

Marquardt, Kathleen. Animal Scam: The Beastly Abuse of Human Rights. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1993.

Regan, Thomas. The Case for Animal Rights. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

Roleff, Tamara L., and Jennifer A. Hurley. The Rights of Animals. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1999.

Sherry, Clifford J. Animal Rights: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 1994.

Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals, 2nd ed. New York: Random House, 1990.

Since the days of ancient Greece, the common belief for centuries was that animals were nothing more than living machines that had no consciousness. Without consciousness, the animals could not reason or think nor could they suffer or feel pain. Later, with the establishment of Christianity, this consciousness, which the animals supposedly did not have, became known as a "soul."


Polio was once one of the world's most dreaded diseases. Between 1948 and 1952 alone, 11,000 people in the United States died of polio and another 200,000 became partially or completely paralyzed.

In 1953, Dr. Jonas Salk announced the development of a vaccine. Salk and his colleagues developed the vaccine by growing three strains of the polio virus in monkey tissue and then killing the viruses with formaldehyde. This vaccine is between 80 percent and 90 percent effective and has saved millions of lives.

Animal Rights

views updated May 09 2018


The debate over animal rights revolves around a simple question: Do any nonhuman animals have rights? Like many simple questions, this one quickly becomes complex. What are rights? Do human beings have them? If so, what rights do people have, and why do people have them?

These questions have divided theoreticians over the past three centuries and more. Some of these thinkers (for example, the philosophers John Locke and Immanuel Kant) maintain that humans have rights. Others (for example, the philosophers David Hume and Jeremy Bentham) maintain that humans do not. The debate has been as intense as it has been protracted. Not surprisingly, adding animals to the mix only complicates matters.

The Terms of the Debate

Some things are clear. The debate concerns the moral rights of animals, not their legal rights. To ask what legal rights animals have is a straightforward empirical question that can be answered by using standard empirical methods (for example, consulting state and federal legislative databases). In 2002 the German Parliament voted to include respect for animal rights in the Constitution; that same year, the United States Congress passed legislation that explicitly excludes rodents and birds from the protection provided by the animal welfare act.

To ask what moral rights animals have, by contrast, is to ask a normative question that no amount of empirical inquiry can answer. Only normative reasoning can answer normative questions. The answers with the best arguments on their side are the ones that should be accepted; they are the ones that tell people how they should live. Understandably, who has the best arguments is the question that fuels the debate.

Fundamental Rights

The fundamental right in dispute is the right to be treated with respect. To have this right is to occupy a singularly important position, one that limits what other people are morally free to do. Those who have this right (to borrow Kant's terminology) are never to be treated merely as means to other persons' ends.

What Kant's injunction means in practice is that harm done to those who possess this right cannot be justified merely by showing that as a result of that harm someone else is better off. In other words, the obligation to respect the rights of the individual are morally more important than any obligation to benefit others, even society as a whole.

Philosophers have defended a variety of criteria that explain why people have rights, both the right to be treated with respect and other, derivative rights, including the rights to life and bodily integrity. The standard view (the one favored by the majority of thinkers) limits rights to moral agents.

Moral Rights and Moral Agents

Moral agents are rational; they have the capacity to bring reason to bear on their moral decision making. Moral agents also are autonomous; they are free to choose between right and wrong. This is why moral agents are morally responsible for their acts.

According to the standard view, then, there is an elegant symmetry between being morally responsible on the one hand and having moral rights on the other hand. Only those who are morally responsible (that is, only moral agents) have moral rights. Once proponents of the standard view add that, at least among terrestrial beings, only human beings are moral agents, their conclusion follows: Only humans have rights.

There are problems with the standard view, however. At least as far back as the philosopher Porphyry (233–306 c.e.) critics have pointed out that many human beings (all young children and the seriously mentally disadvantaged of any age, for example) are not moral agents. Thus, given the standard view, these humans lack moral rights.

This is no small deficiency. Bereft of rights, these human beings do not occupy the same moral position occupied by moral agents. Since they are bereft of rights, there is nothing about the moral status of these human beings that prevents anyone from taking their lives or injuring their bodies in pursuit of benefits for others, whether the beneficiaries are the few or the many.

It is hard to imagine how any friend of humanity could accept this repugnant conclusion. Certainly serious proponents of children's rights or the rights of the mentally disadvantaged cannot accept it. Their challenge is to find an acceptable alternative to the standard view.

An Alternative View

A plausible alternative begins with a characterization of moral patients. Moral patients are individuals who, though they lack the capacities necessary for moral agency, can be the object of direct moral wrongdoing. Young children who are physically abused by their parents are an example. They cannot do anything wrong, but grievous wrong can be done to them.

Some critics of the standard view use this judgment as a basis for revising that view. Only humans have rights, but human moral agents are not the only humans who have rights; human moral patients have rights too.

The revised standard view, then, is no less humanistic than the standard view (rights are restricted to humans only), but unlike the standard view, it avoids the repugnant conclusion. People are not free to take the life or injure the body of a young child, for example, just to secure benefits for themselves or others.

There is a problem with the revised standard view, however. Few even modestly informed people believe that all nonhuman animals are, as the philosopher René Descartes argued, mindless machines. On the contrary, most people agree with naturalist Charles Darwin: Not only do some nonhuman animals have a mental life, the mental life of some of them (nonhuman mammals, for example) is significantly more developed than what is found in many human beings.

Advocates of the revised standard view therefore face a serious dilemma. If they maintain that human moral patients have rights, it is difficult to see how they can consistently avoid accepting the same conclusion for nonhuman mammals. However, if these advocates insist that those animals lack rights, it is difficult to see how they can consistently maintain that human moral patients have them. Logically, it seems, advocates of the revised standard view cannot have it both ways.

Whether or not advocates can escape this dilemma, the challenge they face captures part, although not the whole, of the spirit of the animal rights debate. It is not difficult to propose a criterion for possessing rights that nonhuman animals cannot satisfy. The standard view does that. What is far more difficult (some would say impossible) is to find a criterion that all human moral patients satisfy but that every nonhuman animal fails.

Unless such a criterion is devised, the possibility that at least some nonhuman animals have rights cannot be summarily dismissed. Instead, the arguments for and against animal rights must be carefully examined with a view to discovering which among them are the best. That discovery would indicate which answers people should accept and how people should live.

The Significance of the Answers

Unlike many questions in philosophy, whose answers have no direct bearing on the "real world," the questions posed in the animal rights debate are fraught with practical significance. The answers people give have implications for what people should eat, wear, and do for entertainment; what careers people should pursue and what values they should teach their children; and what population policies they should favor and what development programs they should support. All this and much more, all of it touching on some of the most important areas of human life, is affected by how people answer that "simple" question: Do any nonhuman animals have rights? Paradoxically, few questions are more directly relevant to how people should live.

See also: Environmental Ethics.


Cohen, Carl, and Tom Regan. 2001. The Animal Rights Debate. New York: Rowan and Littlefield.

Frey, R. G. 1980. Interests and Rights: The Case against Animals. Oxford, Eng.: Clarendon Press.

Pluhar, Evelyn. 1995. Beyond Prejudice: The Moral Significance of Human and Nonhuman Animals. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Regan, Tom. 1983. The Case for Animal Rights. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

——. 2001. Defending Animal Rights. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Regan, Tom, and Peter Singer, eds. 1976–1989. Animal Rights and Human Obligations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Rollin, Bernard. 1981. Animal Rights and Human Morality. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.

Sapontzis, Steven. 1987. Morals, Reason, and Animals. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Singer, Peter. 1975. Animal Liberation. New York: Avon Books.

Tom Regan

Animal Rights

views updated Jun 08 2018

Animal rights

Recent concern about the way humans treat animals has spawned a powerful social and political movement driven by the conviction that humans and certain animals are similar in morally significant ways, and that these similarities oblige humans to extend to those animals serious moral consideration, including rights. Though animal welfare movements, concerned primarily with humane treatment of pets, date back to the 1800s, modern animal rights activism has developed primarily out of concern about the use and treatment of domesticated animals in agriculture and in medical, scientific, and industrial research. The rapid growth in membership of animal rights organizations testifies to the increasing momentum of this movement. The leading animal rights group today, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), was founded in 1980 with 100 individuals; today, it has over 300,000 members. The animal rights activist movement has closely followed and used the work of modern philosophers who seek to establish a firm logical foundation for the extension of moral considerability beyond the human community into the animal community.

The nature of animals and appropriate relations between humans and animals have occupied Western thinkers for millennia. Traditional Western views, both religious and philosophical, have tended to deny that humans have any moral obligations to nonhumans. The rise of Christianity and its doctrine of personal immortality, which implies a qualitative gulf between humans and animals, contributed significantly to the dominant Western paradigm. When seventeenth century philosopher René Descartes declared animals mere biological machines, the perceived gap between humans and nonhuman animals reached its widest point. Jeremy Bentham, the father of ethical utilitarianism, challenged this view and fostered a widespread anticruelty movement and exerted powerful force in shaping our legal and moral codes. Its modern legacy, the animal welfare movement, is reformist in that it continues to accept the legitimacy of sacrificing animal interests for human benefit, provided animals are spared any suffering which can conveniently and economically be avoided.

In contrast to the conservatively reformist platform of animal welfare crusaders, a new radical movement began in the late 1970s. This movement, variously referred to as animal liberation or animal rights, seeks to put an end to the routine sacrifice of animal interests for human benefit. In seeking to redefine the issue as one of rights, some animal protectionists organized around the well-articulated and widely disseminated utilitarian perspective of Australian philosopher Peter Singer .In his 1975 classic Animal Liberation, Singer argued that because some animals can experience pleasure and pain, they deserve our moral consideration. While not actually a rights position, Singer's work nevertheless uses the language of rights and was among the first to abandon welfarism and to propose a new ethic of moral considerability for all sentient creatures.

To assume that humans are inevitably superior to other species simply by virtue of their species membership is an injustice which Singer terms speciesism ,an injustice parallel to racism and sexism.

Singer does not claim all animal lives to be of equal worth, nor that all sentient beings should be treated identically. In some cases, human interests may outweigh those of nonhumans, and Singer's utilitarian calculus would allow us to engage in practices which require the use of animals in spite of their pain, where those practices can be shown to produce an overall balance of pleasure over suffering.

Some animal advocates thus reject utilitarianism on the grounds that it allows the continuation of morally abhorrent practices. Lawyer Christopher Stone and philosophers Joel Feinberg and Tom Regan have focused on developing cogent arguments in support of rights for certain animals. Regan's 1983 book The Case For Animal Rights developed an absolutist position which criticized and broke from utilitarianism. It is Regan's arguments, not reformism or the pragmatic principle of utility, which have come to dominate the rhetoric of the animal rights crusade.

The question of which animals possess rights then arises. Regan asserts it is those who, like us, are subjects experiencing their own lives. By "experiencing" Regan means conscious creatures aware of their environment and with goals, desires, emotions, and a sense of their own identity. These characteristics give an individual inherent value, and this value entitles the bearer to certain inalienable rights, especially the right to be treated as an end in itself, and never merely as a means to human ends.

The environmental community has not embraced animal rights; in fact, the two groups have often been at odds. A rights approach focused exclusively on animals does not cover all the entities such as ecosystems that many environmentalists feel ought to be considered morally. Yet a rights approach that would satisfy environmentalists by encompassing both living and nonliving entities may render the concept of rights philosophically and practically meaningless. Regan accuses environmentalists of environmental fascism, insofar as they advocate the protection of species and ecosystems at the expense of individual animals. Most animal rightists advocate the protection of ecosystems only as necessary to protect individual animals, and assign no more value to the individual members of a highly endangered species than to those of a common or domesticated species. Thus, because of its focus on the individual, animal rights can offer no realistic plan for managing natural systems or for protecting ecosystem health , and may at times hinder the efforts of resource managers to effectively address these issues.

For most animal activists, the practical implications of the rights view are clear and uncompromising. The rights view holds that all animal research, factory farming, and commercial or sport hunting and trapping should be abolished. This change of moral status necessitates a fundamental change in contemporary Western moral attitudes towards animals, for it requires humans to treat animals as inherently valuable beings with lives and interests independent of human needs and wants. While this change is not likely to occur in the near future, the efforts of animal rights advocates may ensure that wholesale slaughter of these creatures for unnecessary reasons that is no longer routinely the case, and that when such sacrifice is found to be necessary, it is accompanied by moral deliberation.

[Ann S. Causey ]



Hargrove, E. C. The Animal Rights/Environmental Ethics Debate. New York: SUNY Press, 1992.

Regan, T. The Case For Animal Rights. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1983.

, and P. Singer. Animal Rights and Human Obligations. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1989.

Singer, P. Animal Liberation. New York: Avon Books, 1975.

Zimmerman, M. E., et al, eds. Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights To Radical Ecology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1993.

Animal Rights

views updated May 29 2018

Animal Rights

The modern animal rights movement, which originated in the 1970s, is largely an Anglo-American phenomenon. Its earliest public creed was the "Declaration Against Speciesism" promulgated at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) symposium "The Rights of Animals," held at Cambridge, England, in 1977: "We do not believe that a difference in species alone (any more than a difference in race) can justify wanton exploitation or oppression. . . . We believe in the evolutionary and moral kinship of all animals and we declare our belief that all sentient creatures have rights to life, liberty, and the quest for happiness."

While some Eastern religious traditions—notably Jainism, Hinduism, and Buddhism—have at least notionally shown some regard for animals, Western monotheistic traditions have been heavily humano-centric in theology and ethics. This may itself help to explain the emergence in the West of a countermovement that is indebted, negatively yet also positively, to Jewish, and especially Christian, traditions.

Negatively, animal rights may be viewed as a reaction to the dominant form of Christian teaching, which has denied moral status and rights to nonhuman sentients. How far this teaching is uniquely or authentically Christian is a matter of debate, but it is beyond dispute that classical theologians—Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin, to take just four examples—held that animals were made for human use. Moreover, for the most part of its history, dominant strands within the Christian tradition held animals to be undeserving of moral solicitude.

Key ideas have buttressed this moral indifference. Animals have been held to be nonrational or irrational beings devoid of the imago dei that places humanity in a unique and superior position. While Catholic tradition has never denied souls to animals, such souls have been deemed nonrational and therefore strictly mortal. Human "dominion" over animals given in Genesis 1:28 has frequently been coupled with the Aristotelian notion that nature is made for the sake of humanity alone. The result of these intellectual underpinnings has been to render animals all but invisible as a moral problem within Christian theology. Most especially, the largely unspoken but almost unanimous rejection of the idea that animals can have moral rights has fueled a powerful counterreaction.

Paradoxically, however, the modern animal rights movement can be seen as itself a development of certain positive notions within the Jewish and Christian traditions. The idea that there are moral limits to what humans may do to animals is explicit within the Hebrew Bible and rabbinic tradition. Jesus apparently taught that even sparrows (strouthia —little birds) were "not forgotten by God" (Luke 12:6). Aquinas held that cruelty to animals is wrong if it encourages cruelty to humans. And the examples of countless saints—from St. Basil the Great to St. Francis of Assisi—testify to subtraditions sympathetic to fraternal relations with other creatures. Indeed, Christian visions of extended benevolence or charity were directly responsible for the creation of the first animal protection society in the world, the RSPCA, in 1824, followed by the American Society for the Protection or Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in 1866.

It is doubtful whether the modern animal rights movement could have come into existence without this antecedent religious history, which in some of its subtraditions has fostered notions of a wider interspecies fraternity. In addition to the notion of moral limits, lesser-known religious traditions have also kept alive the notion that animals, as creatures of God, have value in themselves apart from their utility to human beings. Much emphasis in modern animal rights literature has been placed on the idea that sentients possess "intrinsic value"—a notion, it should be noted, that if not essential to a theistic view of the world is clearly compatible with the confession that God the Creator is "merciful over all his works."

Contemporary Jewish and Christian reactions to animal rights are divided. Some believe that the attribution of "rights" to nonhuman (even, in some cases, human) subjects is theologically misguided, since creation is "grace" and creatures can have no rights against their Creator. Animals cannot have rights, it is also argued, because they are incapable of recognizing duties or do not possess the inherent dignity of the imago dei. Others regard the increased moral standing of animals as a threat to human uniqueness or moral superiority. Conservative critics have not shrunk from classifying the animal rights movement as essentially "pagan."

Other theologians have seen a continuity of moral concern. The notion of rights is explicable and justifiable, it is argued, if all rights are grounded in the prior right of God the Creator. Viewed from this perspective, animals have rights, sometimes termed "theos-rights," because the Creator has the right to have what is created treated with respect. Some have championed the idea that made in the image of God and given "dominion" mean that humans should specifically reflect God's own love and care for other creatures. Interpreted Christologically, our power over other creatures should be expressed not in terms of mastery but servanthood: As Christ manifested divine power in service so should our "dominion" over other creatures be similarly expressed.

What gives the debate its poignancy is the perceived continuing indifference to animals within contemporary churches. It is true that some church people and theologians have championed the cause of animals, and none less forcefully than Archbishop Donald Coggan, who in 1977 maintained that "animals, as part of God's creation, have rights which must be respected." But many animal advocates still complain of ecclesial blindness. Helen E. Jones, president of the National Catholic Society for Animal Welfare (USA), spoke prophetically in 1967 of how the church should be "a leader in the movement for the protection of animals but it is not even in the procession." Significantly, the NCSAW subsequently abandoned its specifically Catholic identity and became the (now International) Society for Animal Rights. Despite some emerging theological work on animals, it remains true that institutionally churches and synagogues have yet to find creative ways of responding to the increased moral sensitivity to animals that the movement represents.

See alsoAnimal Sacrifice; Buddhism; Hinduism; Human Rights; Jainism; Judeo-Christian Tradition; Vegetarianism.


Lawler, J. G. "On the Rights of Animals." AnglicanTheological Review 47 (April 1965):180–190.

Linzey, Andrew. Animal Gospel: Christian Faith as if Animals Mattered. 1998.

Linzey, Andrew. Animal Rights: A Christian Assessment. 1976.

Linzey, Andrew. Animal Theology. 1994.

Linzey, Andrew. Christianity and the Rights of Animals. 1987.

Webb, Stephen H. On God and Dogs: A Christian Theology of Compassion for Animals. 1998.

Andrew Linzey

animal rights

views updated Jun 27 2018

animal rights Freedom from subjection to pain and distress, especially applied to animals used in scientific experiments for human purposes. Experiments using animals decreased greatly during the 1980s, but continue particularly in determining the effects of new medicinal preparations, and of the long-term use of consumer products such as alcoholic drinks, cigarettes, and facial cosmetics. Animal rights activists wish to extend animal rights to include all animals kept, transported, or slaughtered in conditions perceived to be inhumane. See also vivisection

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