Animal Rights Philosophy
Do animals have rights?
Conflict and negotiation:
who has rights and who decides?
Key Concepts
Animal welfare
Animal rights
Five Freedoms denied to farm animals
Meet Your Meat
Long tradition of Animal Welfare like
RSPCA and Humane Society
More recently there has emerged a more
militant movement arguing that we
should see animals as having rights
WARNING – disturbing photos next
two slides
Rights- based movements
The AR movement can best been seen as an
extension of other human rights struggles
Last century there was a ‘slave trade’ which civilised
people supported because ‘everyone knew’ Blacks
and so couldn’t be given the same rights as white
people. And with their current abilities were only
capable of being slaves
Likewise, women were seen as different and
‘inferior’ and not able to vote or get an education.
This is still true in some places in the world.
Animal rights activists argue that the same logic is
being used to justify the exclusion of non-human
Animal rights
These things were changed when people
mobilized to end them and now
‘everybody knows’ that women and
Blacks should have equal ‘rights’, and the
denial of these rights is now labelled as
sexism or racism.
Animal rights activists argue that there is
no good reason not to extend the notion
of ‘rights’ to non-human animals and it is
species-ism not to see this.
Some misconceptions
The key text in this was Peter Singer’s 1975
book Animal Liberation
Singer is not arguing that humans and other
non-human animals should have the SAME
How many animals do you think would be an
acceptable number to kill to get a polio
vaccine (it was 2.5 million)? When put this
way a cost/benefit analysis which at first
looks scientific hides the value judgment
involved. How do we decide?
Singer’s Argument
Singer is a UTILITARIAN. He argues that
our best criteria for determining ethical
decisions is that we should MINIMIZE the
amount of suffering.
Does this seem a valid criteria to you?
Singer (cont.)
We know that animals can suffer pain (that
is they have central nervous system unlike
plants) and act in ways consistent with the
observation that they can even, to some
extent, anticipate pain and suffering (eg.
they struggle when captured).
Whether non-human animals should have
rights then is not based of whether they can
reason or talk but whether they can suffer.
Singer (cont.)
There is no logical reason to deny that
animals suffer (those that deny it are in
the same position as slave-traders who
said Negroes don’t feel pain like ‘us’).
Thus there is no prima facie case for
excluding non-human animals from
SOME consideration – this does not
mean they are entitled to the SAME
Singer (cont.)
Once this argument is accepted – that is we
should minimize unnecessary suffering –
Singer argues, then we need to do so as
long as we don’t significantly increase the
amount of suffering to humans. So, the
question becomes what actions should we
take in which the suffering of animals
outweighs the cost to humans. Is it
necessary to:
Eat them? Experiment on them? Wear their fur?
Use them in circuses, rodeos?
Animals as food
Most usual contact with non-human
animals is at mealtime
Is it necessary to eat non-human
If Singer is right then we would need to
establish that human interests
outweighed the animals interest (as in
the case of Eskimos, who need to eat it
to survive—but that doesn’t apply to
most of us)
Health risks of meat
OXFORD STUDY 11000 subjects – half on
usual meat and others on vegetarian diets: 40
percent less cancer , 30 percent less heart disease,
20 percent less likely to die before age 80
CHINA HEALTH STUDY 6500 subjects
"In my view, no chemical carcinogen is nearly so
important in causing human cancer as animal
protein." -- T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. Director, the
China Health Project
There is a lot of good research to suggest that meat-eating is hazardous to your health.
The China Health Study shows that as the traditionally vegetarian Chinese have added
meat to their diet, there is a direct correlation in increased heart disease and cancer,
leading to the director’s comment above.
Environmental damage
2.5 acres of crop land can produce enough
vegetables for twenty people, enough
grain for fifteen people, enough chicken
for two people or enough beef for one
It takes 20 000 litres of water and 8-10
kilos of grain to produce a kilo of beef
(plus topsoil, clearing etc)
The benefits of eating non-human animals look dubious in the light of the
environmental costs. So Singer’s argument would say that we are hardly justified
in imposing suffering on non-human animals, when we don’t need to eat them
(and we may in fact be better off).
Animal Experiments
Do animal experiments relieve
more suffering than they cause?
MNC’s research into effects of
shampoo, skin cream, smoking,
LD 50 tests on food colourings
This looks shaky after the cost/benefit analysis. Much of the research is of
dubious benefit, let alone leading to significant human improvement.
Objection 1
Animals eat each other so why
shouldn’t we eat them?
Odd looking to animals for moral guidance
Animals kill because it is necessary for them
to eat, this would not be the case with
Sociologically this is an argument from the
supposed ‘naturalness’ of an action to its
social effects which is invalid. In fact, much of
what is “natural” we have laws against.
Objection 2
Humans and animals are qualitatively
different so we are entitled to treat
them differently.
But how is any difference MORALLY
Everyone is different. What is acceptable
criteria for causing pain that includes only
non-human animals? Don’t use tools, don’t
go bowling, don’t speak in human languages,
may be true but does it follow that we should
not minimize their suffering?
Objection 2 (cont)
Even if we take self-consciousness as
key human characteristic
Of course in some cases it may be morally
relevant – humans suffer more in some cases
 Some animals (parrots and apes) have shown
self-consciousness, and some people (in
comas) do not. Does it follow that our interest
as self-conscious beings over-ride that of the
merely sentient when our self consciousness is
not at stake?
Objection 2 (cont)
What about someone with a severe
intellectual impairment, if self
consciousness is the basis of moral
decision then would we say we should
be able to eat them? Experiment on
Or do we say that they need ‘special
Objection 3
Ethics or rights are reciprocal and so it
makes no sense to extend rights to animals
 It also excludes intellectually disabled, children
and infants
 Could be used in slave trader’s situation since
Blacks were not able to reciprocate, we owed
then nothing
 Singer rejects reciprocity as a basis for ethics
 Another theorist, Ted Benton, remarked that
this amounts to saying that “only human
beings can grant rights – so we won’t!”
I hope you are now clearer about
some of the arguments about animal
rights and about the ways in which
science is used and misused in
environmental debates
More common arguments are
discussed in the FAQs on this
Two Traditions
Human beings as dominating the earth
 Natural
world seen only as instrumental to
 Because of the incarnation, great ontological
gap between human beings and all other
natural beings
 Human beings have immortal soul, animals
Human beings as stewards of the earth
Compassion and respect for life
A consistent ethic of respect for life
Human souls may be reborn as animals,
thus the possibility of a much smaller gap
between human and animal worlds
Native American Traditions:
The Navajo and the Hopi
Harmony (hozho) emphasizes a balanced
relationship of respect
Emphasis on everything having its proper
Models of the Relationship
between Humans and Animals
Animals as Objects of Use
Animals as Objects of Respect
Animals as Rights Holders
Animals as Objects of Use:
Animals are seen merely as being objects
available for humans to use
Animals as Objects of Use:
Animals are still seen primarily as objects
to be used by human beings, but moral
considerations constrain this use
We must treat animals humanely or else
we diminish ourselves
Animals as Objects of Respect
In this view, animals--and their pain--are
seen as having some moral standing in the
human world, even if it is not equivalent
to human standing.
 We are urged to reduce animals suffering
unless there is a strong human benefit for
such suffering (e.g., medical research with
Animals as Rights Holders
Animals are seen as holders of rights
What entitles a being to rights?
 Some
rights-conferring characteristic
What rights do animals have?
 Life
 Life
in natural habitat
Whose suffering counts?
Defenders of animal rights often maintain
that those who disagree with them are
guilty of “speciesism,” I.e., the view that
we arbitrarily grant human beings rights
that we do not accord to animals.
Considerations about Rights
Who has rights?
 On what basis?
 Soul
 Ability to suffer
 Ability to have a future
How do we adjudicate conflicts of rights
Animal Rights and Abortion
One’s position on animal rights may have
interesting implications for one’s position
on abortion.
If an entity has rights solely on the basis
of its ability to experience pain, and if the
fetus can experience pain, then it may
have rights, even though it may not be
accepted as human.
Concerns about
Proximity--do we just not want to see
animal slaughter?
Searching for Common
Medical Experimentation
Commercial Animal Agriculture
Wild Animals, Zoos, and Animal
Medical Experimentation
Some animal experimentation is avoidable
or redundant
Can animal suffering count, even if it
doesn’t count as much as human
Commercial Animal Agriculture
Some methods of raising and slaughtering
animals involve much more suffering for
the animals than others
Wild Animals, Zoos, and
Animal Preservation
Should animals be held in captivity for
humans to view?
Promotes animal welfare programs
Should we try to preserve animal species
that may otherwise die out?
In what ways, if any, should human
beings have close attachments to

AR Philosophy - Animal Liberation Front