Welcome to the Animal Rights Frequently Asked Questions text (AR FAQ). This FAQ is intended to satisfy two basic goals: a) to provide a source of information and encouragement for people exploring the issues involved in the animal rights movement, and b) to answer the common questions and justifications offered up by AR opponents. It is unashamedly an advocacy vehicle for animal rights. Opponents of AR are invited to create a FAQ that codifies their views; we do not attempt to do so here.
The FAQ restricts itself specifically to AR issues; nutrition and other vegetarian and veganism issues are intentionally avoided because they are already well covered in the existing vegetarianism and veganism FAQs maintained by Michael Traub. To obtain these FAQs, contact Michael at his e-mail address given below.
The FAQ was created through a collaboration of authors. The answers have been attributed via initials, as follows:
TA Ted Altar firstname.lastname@example.org JE Jonathan Esterhazy email@example.com DG Donald Graft firstname.lastname@example.org JEH John Harrington email@example.com DVH Dietrich Von Haugwitz firstname.lastname@example.org LJ Leor Jacobi email@example.com LK Larry Kaiser firstname.lastname@example.org JK Jeremy Keens email@example.com BL Brian Luke firstname.lastname@example.org PM Peggy Madison email@example.com BRO Brian Owen firstname.lastname@example.org JSD Janine Stanley-Dunham email@example.com JLS Jennifer Stephens firstname.lastname@example.org MT Michael Traub email@example.com AECW Allen ECW firstname.lastname@example.org
The current FAQ maintainer is Donald Graft (see address above). Ideas and criticisms are actively solicited and will be very gratefully received. The material included here is released to the public domain. We request that it be distributed without alteration to respect the author attributions.
#1 What is all this Animal Rights (AR) stuff and why should it concern me?
The fundamental principle of the AR movement is that nonhuman animals deserve to live according to their own natures, free from harm, abuse, and exploitation. This goes further than just saying that we should treat animals well while we exploit them, or before we kill and eat them. It says animals have the RIGHT to be free from human cruelty and exploitation, just as humans possess this right. The withholding of this right from the nonhuman animals based on their species membership is referred to as "speciesism".
Animal rights activists try to extend the human circle of respect and compassion beyond our species to include other animals, who are also capable of feeling pain, fear, hunger, thirst, loneliness, and kinship. When we try to do this, many of us come to the conclusion that we can no longer support factory farming, vivisection, and the exploitation of animals for entertainment. At the same time, there are still areas of debate among animal rights supporters, for example, whether ANY research that harms animals is ever justified, where the line should be drawn for enfranchising species with rights, on what occasions civil disobedience may be appropriate, etc. However, these areas of potential disagreement do not negate the abiding principles that join us: compassion and concern for the pain and suffering of nonhumans.
One main goal of this FAQ is to address the common justifications that arise when we become aware of how systematically our society abuses and exploits animals. Such "justifications" help remove the burden from our consciences, but this FAQ attempts to show that they do not excuse the harm we cause other animals. Beyond the scope of this FAQ, more detailed arguments can be found in three classics of the AR literature.
The Case for Animal Rights, Tom Regan (ISBN 0-520-05460-1) In Defense of Animals, Peter Singer (ISBN 0-06-097044-8) Animal Liberation, Peter Singer (ISBN 0-380-71333-0, 2nd Ed.)
While appreciating the important contributions of Regan and Singer, many animal rights activists emphasize the role of empathetic caring as the actual and most appropriate fuel for the animal rights movement in contradistinction to Singer's and Regan's philosophical rationales. To the reader who says "Why should I care?", we can point out the following reasons:
One cares about minimizing suffering.
One cares about promoting compassion in human affairs.
One is concerned about improving the health of humanity.
One is concerned about human starvation and malnutrition.
One wants to prevent the radical disruption of our planet's ecosystem.
One wants to preserve animal species.
One wants to preserve wilderness.
The connections between these issues and the AR agenda may not be obvious. Please read on as we attempt to clarify this. SEE ALSO #2-#3, #26, #87-#91 DG
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. --Jeremy Bentham (philosopher)
Life is life--whether in a cat, or dog or man. There is no difference there between a cat or a man. The idea of difference is a human conception for man's own advantage... --Sri Aurobindo (poet and philosopher)
Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages. --Thomas Edison (inventor)
The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look on the murder of men. --Leonardo Da Vinci (artist and scientist)
#2 Is the Animal Rights movement different from the Animal Welfare movement? The Animal Liberation movement?
The Animal Welfare movement acknowledges the suffering of nonhumans and attempts to reduce that suffering through "humane" treatment, but it does not have as a goal elimination of the use and exploitation of animals. The Animal Rights movement goes significantly further by rejecting the exploitation of animals and according them rights in that regard. A person committed to animal welfare might be concerned that cows get enough space, proper food, etc., but would not necessarily have any qualms about killing and eating cows, so long as the rearing and slaughter are "humane".
The Animal Welfare movement is represented by such organizations as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Humane Society. Having said this, it should be realized that some hold a broader interpretation of the AR movement. They would argue that the AW groups do, in fact, support rights for animals (e.g., a dog has the right not to be kicked). Under this interpretation, AR is viewed as a broad umbrella covering the AW and strict AR groups. This interpretation has the advantage of moving AR closer to the mainstream. Nevertheless, there is a valid distinction between the AW and AR groups, as described in the first paragraph.
Animal Liberation (AL) is, for many people, a synonym for Animal Rights (but see below). Some people prefer the term "liberation" because it brings to mind images of other successful liberation movements, such as the movement for liberation of slaves and liberation of women, whereas the term "rights" often encounters resistance when an attempt is made to apply it to nonhumans. The phrase "Animal Liberation" became popular with the publication of Peter Singer's classic book of the same name. This use of the term liberation should be distinguished from the literal meaning discussed in question #88, i.e., an Animal Liberationist is not necessarily one who engages in forceful civil disobedience or unlawful actions.
Finally, intellectual honesty compels us to acknowledge that the account given here is rendered in broad strokes (but is at least approximately correct), and purposely avoids describing ongoing debate about the meaning of the terms "Animal Rights", "Animal Liberation", and "Animal Welfare", debate about the history of these movements, and debate about the actual positions of the prominent thinkers. To depict the flavor of such debates, the following text describes one coherent position. Naturally, it will be attacked from all sides!
Some might suggest that a subtle distinction can be made between the Animal Liberation and Animal Rights movements. The Animal Rights movement, at least as propounded by Regan and his adherents, is said to require total abolition of such practices as experimentation on animals. The Animal Liberation movement, as propounded by Singer and his adherents, is said to reject the absolutist view and assert that in some cases, such experimentation can be morally defensible. Because such cases could also justify some experiments on humans, however, it is not clear that the distinction described reflects a difference between the liberation and rights views, so much as it does a broader difference of ethical theory, i.e., absolutism versus utilitarianism. DG
Historically, animal welfare groups have attempted to improve the lot of animals in society. They worked against the popular Western concept of animals as lacking souls and not being at all worthy of any ethical consideration. The animal rights movement set itself up as an abolitionist alternative to the reform-minded animal welfarists. As the animal rights movement has become larger and more influential, the animal exploiters have finally been forced to respond to it. Perhaps inspired by the efforts of Tom Regan to distinguish AR from AW, industry groups intent on maintaining the status quo have embraced the term "animal welfare". Pro-vivisection, hunting, trapping, agribusiness, and animal entertainment groups now refer to themselves as "animal welfare" supporters. Several umbrella groups whose goal is to defend these practices have also arisen.
This classic case of public-relations doublespeak acknowledges the issue of cruelty to animals in name only, while allowing for the continued use and abuse of animals. The propaganda effect is to stigmatize animal rights supporters as being extreme while attempting to portray themselves as the reasonable moderates. Nowadays, the cause of "animal welfare" is invoked by the animal industry at least as often as it is used by animal protection groups. SEE ALSO: #1, #3, #87-#88 LJ
#3 What exactly are rights and what rights can we give animals?
Despite arguably being the foundation of the Western liberal tradition, the concept of "rights" has been a source of controversy and confusion in the debate over AR. A common objection to the notion that animals have rights involves questioning the origin of those rights. One such argument might proceed as follows:
Where do these rights come from? Are you in special communication with God, and he has told you that animals have rights? Have the rights been granted by law? Aren't rights something that humans must grant?
It is true that the concept of "rights" needs to be carefully explicated. It is also true that the concept of "natural rights" is fraught with philosophical difficulties. Complicating things further is the confusion between legal rights and moral rights. One attempt to avoid this objection is to accept it, but argue that if it is not an obstacle for thinking of humans as having rights, then it should not be an obstacle for thinking of animals as having rights. Henry Salt wrote:
Have the lower animals "rights?" Undoubtedly--if men have. That is the point I wish to make evident in this opening chapter... The fitness of this nomenclature is disputed, but the existence of some real principle of the kind can hardly be called in question; so that the controversy concerning "rights" is little else than an academic battle over words, which leads to no practical conclusion. I shall assume, therefore, that men are possessed of "rights," in the sense of Herbert Spencer's definition; and if any of my readers object to this qualified use of the term, I can only say that I shall be perfectly willing to change the word as soon as a more appropriate one is forthcoming. The immediate question that claims our attention is this--if men have rights, have animals their rights also?
Satisfying though this argument may be, it still leaves us unable to respond to the sceptic who disavows the notion of rights even for humans. Fortunately, however, there is a straightforward interpretation of "rights" that is plausible and allows us to avoid the controversial rights rhetoric and underpinnings. It is the notion that a "right" is the flip side of a moral imperative. If, ethically, we must refrain from an act performed on a being, then that being can be said to have a "right" that the act not be performed. For example, if our ethics tells us that we must not kill another, then the other has a right not to be killed by us. This interpretation of rights is, in fact, an intuitive one that people both understand and readily endorse. (Of course, rights so interpreted can be codified as legal rights through appropriate legislation.)
It is important to realize that, although there is a basis for speaking of animals as having rights, that does not imply or require that they possess all the rights that humans possess, or even that humans possess all the rights that animals possess. Consider the human right to vote. (On the view taken here, this would derive from an ethical imperative to give humans influence over actions that influence their lives.) Since animals lack the capacity to rationally consider actions and their implications, and to understand the concept of democracy and voting, they lack the capacity to vote. There is, therefore, no ethical imperative to allow them to do so, and thus they do not possess the right to vote. Similarly, some fowls have a strong biological need to extend and flap their wings; right-thinking people feel an ethical imperative to make it possible for them to do so. Thus, it can be said that fowl have the right to flap their wings. Obviously, such a right need not be extended to humans.
The rights that animals and humans possess, then, are determined by their interests and capacities. Animals have an interest in living, avoiding pain, and even in pursuing happiness (as do humans). As a result of the ethical imperatives, they have rights to these things (as do humans). They can exercise these rights by living their lives free of exploitation and abuse at the hands of humans. SEE ALSO: #1-#2 DG
#4 Isn't AR hypocritical, e.g., because you don't give rights to insects or plants?
The general hypocrisy argument appears in many forms. A typical form is as follows:
"It is hypocritical to assert rights for a cow but not for a plant; therefore, cows cannot have rights."
Arguments of this type are frequently used against AR. Not much analysis is required to see that they carry little weight. First, one can assert an hypothesis A that would carry as a corollary hypothesis B. If one then fails to assert B, one is hypocritical, but this does not necessarily make A false. Certainly, to assert A and not B would call into question one's credibility, but it entails nothing about the validity of A.
Second, the factual assertion of hypocrisy is often unwarranted. In the above example, there are grounds for distinguishing between cows and plants (plants do not have a central nervous system), so the charge of hypocrisy is unjustified. One may disagree with the criteria, but assertion of such criteria nullifies the charge of hypocrisy. Finally, the charge of hypocrisy can be reduced in most cases to simple speciesism. For example, the quote above can be recast as:
"It is hypocritical to assert rights for a human but not for a plant; therefore, humans cannot have rights."
To escape from this reductio ad absurdum of the first quote, one must produce a crucial relevant difference between cows and humans, in other words, one must justify the speciesist assignment of rights to humans but not to cows. (In question #24, we apply a similar reduction to the charge of hypocrisy related to abortion. For questions dealing specifically with insects and plants, refer to questions #39 through #46.) Finally, we must ask ourselves who the real hypocrites are. The following quotation from Michael W. Fox describes the grossly hypocritical treatment of exploited versus companion animals. DG
Farm animals can be kept five to a cage two feet square, tied up constantly by a two-foot-long tether, castrated without anesthesia, or branded with a hot iron. A pet owner would be no less than prosecuted for treating a companion animal in such a manner; an American president was, in fact, morally censured merely for pulling the ears of his two beagles. --Michael W. Fox (Vice President of the Humane Society of the United States)
SEE ALSO: #24, #39-#46
#5 What right do AR people have to impose their beliefs on others?
There is a not-so-subtle distinction between imposition of one's views and advertising them. AR supporters are certainly not imposing their views in the sense that, say, the Spanish Inquisition imposed its views, or the Church imposed its views on Galileo. We do, however, feel a moral duty to present our case to the public, and often to our friends and acquaintances. There is ample precedent for this: protests against slavery, protests against the Vietnam War, condemnation of racism, etc. One might point out that the gravest imposition is that of the exploiter of animals upon his innocent and defenseless victims. DG
If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. --George Orwell (author)
I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it's hell. --Harry S. Truman (33rd U.S. President)
SEE ALSO: #11, #87-#91
#6 Isn't AR just another facet of political correctness?
If only that were true! The term "politically correct" generally refers to a view that is in sync with the societal mainstream but which some might be inclined to disagree with. For example, some people might be inclined to dismiss equal treatment for the races as mere "political correctness". The AR agenda is, currently, far from being a mainstream idea. Also, it is ridiculous to suppose that a view's validity can be overturned simply by attaching the label "politically correct" or "politically incorrect". DG
#7 Isn't AR just another religion?
No. The dictionary defines "religion" as the appeal to a supernatural power. (An alternate definition refers to devotion to a cause; that is a virtue that the AR movement would be happy to avow.) People who support Animal Rights come from many different religions and many different philosophies. What they share is a belief in the importance of showing compassion for other individuals, whether human or nonhuman. LK
#8 Doesn't it demean humans to give rights to animals?
A tongue-in-cheek, though valid, answer to this question is given by David Cowles-Hamar: "Humans are animals, so animal rights are human rights!" In a more serious vein, we can observe that giving rights to women and black people does not demean white males. By analogy, then, giving rights to nonhumans does not demean humans. If anything, by being morally consistent, and widening the circle of compassion to deserving nonhumans, we ennoble humans. SEE ALSO: #26 DG
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. --Mahatma Gandhi (statesman and philosopher)
It is man's sympathy with all creatures that first makes him truly a man. --Albert Schweitzer (statesman, Nobel 1952)
For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love. --Pythagoras (mathematician)
#9 Weren't Hitler and Goebbels in favor of animal rights?
This argument is absurd and almost unworthy of serious consideration. The questioner implies that since Hitler and Goebbels allegedly held views supportive of animal rights (e.g., Hitler was a vegetarian for some time), the animal rights viewpoint must be wrong or dubious. The problem for this argument is simple: bad people and good people can both believe things correctly. Or put in another way, just because a person holds one bad belief (e.g., Nazism), that doesn't make all his beliefs wrong. A few examples suffice to illustrate this. The Nazis undertook smoking reduction campaigns. Is it therefore dubious to discourage smoking? Early Americans withheld respect and liberty for black people. Does that mean that they were wrong in giving respect and liberty to others? Technically, this argument is an "ignoratio elenchus fallacy", arguing from irrelevance. Finally, many scholars are doubtful that Hitler and Goebbels supported AR in any meaningful way. SEE ALSO: #54 DG
#10 Do you really believe that "a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy"?
Taken alone and literally, this notion is absurd. However, this quote has been shamelessly removed from its original context and misrepresented by AR opponents. The original context of the quote is given below. Viewed within its context, it is clear that the quote is neither remarkable nor absurd. SEE ALSO: #47 DG
When it comes to having a central nervous system, and the ability to feel pain, hunger, and thirst, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. --Ingrid Newkirk (AR activist)
ANIMALS AND MORALITY
#11 There is no correct or incorrect in morals; you have yours and I have mine, right?
This position, known as moral relativism, is quite ancient but became fashionable at the turn of the century, as reports on the customs of societies alien to those found in Europe became available. It fell out of fashion, after the Second World War, although it is occasionally revived. Ethical propositions, we are asked to believe, are no more than statements of personal opinion and, therefore, cannot carry absolute weight. The main problem with this position is that ethical relativists are unable to denounce execrable ethical practices, such as racism. On what grounds can they condemn (if at all) Hitler's ideas on racial purity? Are we to believe that he was uttering an ethical truth when advocating the Final Solution?
In addition to the inability to denounce practices of other societies, the relativists are unable to counter the arguments of even those whose society they share. They cannot berate someone who proposes to raise and kill infants for industrial pet food consumption, for example, if that person sees it as morally sound. Indeed, they cannot articulate the concept of societal moral progress, since they lack a basis for judging progress. There is no point in turning to the relativists for advice on ethical issues such as euthanasia, infanticide, or the use of fetuses in research. Faced with such arguments, ethical relativists sometimes argue that ethical truth is based on the beliefs of a society; ethical truth is seen as nothing more than a reflection of societal customs and habits. Butchering animals is acceptable in the West, they would say, because the majority of people think it so. They are on no firmer ground here. Are we to accept that chattel slavery was right before the US Civil War and wrong thereafter? Can all ethical decisions be decided by conducting opinion polls?
It is true that different societies have different practices that might be seen as ethical by one and unethical by the other. However, these differences result from differing circumstances. For example, in a society where mere survival is key, the diversion of limited food to an infant could detract significantly from the well-being of the existing family members that contribute to food gathering. Given that, infanticide may be the ethically correct course. The conclusion is that there is such a thing as ethical truth (otherwise, ethics becomes vacuous and devoid of proscriptive force). The continuity of thought, then, between those who reject the evils of slavery, racial discrimination, and gender bias, and those who denounce the evils of speciesism becomes striking. AECW
Many AR advocates (including myself) believe that morality is relative. We believe that AR is much more cogently argued when it is argued from the standpoint of your opponent's morality, not some mythical, hard-to-define universal morality. In arguing against moral absolutism, there is a very simple objection: Where does this absolute morality come from? Moral absolutism is an argument from authority, a tautology. If there were such a thing as "ethical truth", then there must be a way of determining it, and obviously there isn't. In the absence of a known proof of "ethical truth", I don't know how AECW can conclude it exists.
An example of the method of leveraging a person's morality is to ask the person why he has compassion for human beings. Almost always he will agree that his compassion does not stem from the fact that: 1) humans use language, 2) humans compose symphonies, 3) humans can plan in the far future, 4) humans have a written, technological culture, etc. Instead, he will agree that it stems from the fact that humans can suffer, feel pain, be harmed, etc. It is then quite easy to show that nonhuman animals can also suffer, feel pain, be harmed, etc. The person's arbitrary inconsistency in not according moral status to nonhumans then stands out starkly. JEH
There is a middle ground between the positions of AECW and JEH. One can assert that just as mathematics is necessarily built upon a set of unprovable axioms, so is a system of ethics. At the foundation of a system of ethics are moral axioms, such as "unnecessary pain is wrong". Given the set of axioms, methods of reasoning (such as deduction and induction), and empirical facts, it is possible to derive ethical hypotheses. It is in this sense that an ethical statement can be said to be true. Of course, one can disagree about the axioms, and certainly such disagreement renders ethics "relative", but the concept of ethical truth is not meaningless. Fortunately, the most fundamental ethical axioms seem to be nearly universally accepted, usually because they are necessary for societies to function. Where differences exist, they can be elucidated and discussed, in a style similar to the "leveraging" described by JEH. SEE ALSO: #5 DG
To a man whose mind is free there is something even more intolerable in the sufferings of animals than in the sufferings of man. For with the latter it is at least admitted that suffering is evil and that the man who causes it is a criminal. But thousands of animals are uselessly butchered every day without a shadow of remorse. If any man were to refer to it, he would be thought ridiculous. And that is the unpardonable crime. --Romain Rolland (author, Nobel 1915)
#12 The animals are raised to be eaten; so what is wrong with that?
This question has always seemed to me to be a fancy version of "But we want to do these things, so what is wrong with that?" The idea that an act, by virtue of an intention of ours, can be exonerated morally is totally illogical. But worse than that, however, is the fact that such a belief is a dangerous position to take because it can enable one to justify some practices that are universally condemned. To see how this is so, consider the following restatement of the basis of the question: "Suffering can be excused so long as we breed them for the purpose." Now, cannot an analogous argument be used to defend a group of slave holders who breed and enslave humans and justify it by saying "but they're bred to be our workers"? Could not the Nazis defend their murder of the Jews by saying "but we rounded them up to be killed"? SEE ALSO: #13, #61 DG
Shame on such a morality that is worthy of pariahs, and that fails to recognize the eternal essence that exists in every living thing, and shines forth with inscrutable significance from all eyes that see the sun! --Arthur Schopenhauer (philosopher)
#13 But isn't it true that the animals wouldn't exist if we didn't raise them for slaughter?
There are two ways to interpret this question. First, the questioner may be referring to "the animals" as a species, in which case the argument might be more accurately phrased as follows:
"The ecological niche of cows is to be farmed; they get continued survival in this niche in return for our using them."
Second, the questioner may be referring to "the animals" as individuals, in which case the phrasing might be:
"The individual cows that we raise to eat would not have had a life had we not done so."
We deal first with the species interpretation and then with the individuals interpretation. The questioner's argument applies presumably to all species of animals; to make things more concrete, we will take cows as an example in the following text. It is incorrect to assert that cows could continue to exist only if we farm them for human consumption. First, today in many parts of India and elsewhere, humans and cows are engaged in a reciprocal and reverential relationship. It is only in recent human history that this relationship has been corrupted into the one-sided exploitation that we see today. There IS a niche for cows between slaughter consumption and extinction. (The interested reader may find the book Beyond Beef by Jeremy Rifkin quite enlightening on this subject.)
Second, several organizations have programs for saving animals from extinction. There is no reason to suppose that cows would not qualify. The species argument is also flawed because, in fact, our intensive farming of cattle results in habitat destruction and the loss of other species. For example, clearing of rain forests for pasture has led to the extinction of countless species. Cattle farming is destroying habitats on six continents. Why is the questioner so concerned about the cow species while being unconcerned about these other species? Could it have anything to do with the fact that he wants to continue to eat the cows?
Finally, a strong case can be made against the species argument from ethical theory. Arguments similar to the questioner's could be developed that would ask us to accept practices that are universally condemned. For example, consider a society that breeds a special race of humans for use as slaves. They argue that the race would not exist if they did not breed them for use as slaves. Does the reader accept this justification? Now we move on to the individual's interpretation of the question. One attempt to refute the argument is to answer as follows:
"It is better not to be born than to be born into a life of misery and early death."
To many, this is sufficient. However, one could argue that the fact that the life of misery before death is not necessary. Suppose that the cows are treated well before being killed painlessly and eaten. Is it not true that the individual cows would not have enjoyed their short lives had we not raised them for consumption? Furthermore, what if we compensate the taking of the life by bringing a new life into being? Peter Singer originally believed that this argument was absurd because there are no cow souls waiting around to be born. Many people accept this view and consider it sufficient, but Singer now rejects it because he accepts that to bring a being to a pleasant life does confer a benefit on that being. (There is extensive discussion of this issue in the second edition of Animal Liberation.) How then are we to proceed?
The key is that the AR movement asserts that humans and nonhumans have a right to not be killed by humans. The ethical problem can be seen clearly by applying the argument to humans. Consider the case of a couple that gives birth to an infant and eats it at the age of nine months, just when their next infant is born. A 9-month old baby has no more rational knowledge of its situation or future plans than does a cow, so there is no reason to distinguish the two cases. Yet, certainly, we would condemn the couple. We condemn them because the infant is an individual to whom we confer the right not to be killed. Why is this right not accorded to the cow? I think the answer is that the questioner wants to eat it. SEE ALSO: #12 DG
It were much better that a sentient being should never have existed, than that it should have existed only to endure unmitigated misery. --Percy Bysshe Shelley (poet)
#14 Don't the animals we use have a happier life since they are fed and protected?
The questioner makes two assumptions here. First, that happiness or contentment accrues from being fed and protected, and second, that the animals are, in fact, fed and protected. Both of these premises can be questioned. Certainly the animals are fed; after all, they must be fattened for consumption. It is very difficult to see any way that, say, factory-farmed chickens are "protected". They are not protected from mutilation, because they are painfully debeaked. They are not protected from psychological distress, because they are crowded together in unnatural conditions. And finally, they are not protected from predation, because they are slaughtered and eaten by humans. We can also question the notion that happiness accrues from feeding and protection alone. The Roman galley slaves were fed and protected from the elements; nevertheless, they would presumably trade their condition for one of greater uncertainty to obtain happiness. The same can be said of the slaves of earlier America.
Finally, an ethical argument is relevant here. Consider again the couple of question #13. They will feed and protect their infant up to the point at which they consume it. We would not accept this as a justification. Why should we accept it for the chicken? SEE ALSO: #13 DG
#15 Is the use of service animals and beasts of burden considered exploitative?
A simple approach to this question might be to suggest that we all must work for a living and it should be no different for animals. The problem is that we want to look at the animals as like children, i.e., worthy of the same protections and rights, and, like them, incapable of being morally responsible. But we don't force children into labor! One can make a distinction, however, that goes something like this: The animals are permanently in their diminished state (i.e., incapable of voluntarily assenting to work); children are not. We do not impose a choice of work for children because they need the time to develop into their full adult and moral selves. With the animals, we choose for them a role that allows them to contribute; in return, we do not abuse them by eating them, etc. If this is done with true concern that their work conditions are appropriate and not of a sweat-shop nature, that they get enough rest and leisure time, etc., this would constitute a form of stewardship that is acceptable and beneficial to both sides, and one that is not at odds with AR philosophy. DG
#16 Doesn't the Bible give Humanity dominion over the animals?
It is true that the Bible contains a passage that confers on humanity dominion over the animals. The import of this fact derives from the assumption that the Bible is the word of God, and that God is the ultimate moral authority. Leaving aside for the moment consideration of the meaning of dominion, we can take issue with the idea of seeking moral authority from the Bible. First, there are serious problems with the interpretation of Biblical passages, with many verses contradicting one another, and with many scholars differing dramatically over the meaning of given verses.
Second, there are many claims to God-hood among the diverse cultures of this world; some of these Gods implore us to respect all life and to not kill unnecessarily. Whose God are we to take as the ultimate moral authority? Finally, as Tom Regan observes, many people do not believe in a God and so appeals to His moral authority are empty for such people. For such people, the validity of judgments of the supposed God must be cross-checked with other methods of determining reasonableness. What are the cross-checks for the Biblical assertions?
These remarks apply equally to other assertions of Biblical approval of human practices (such as the consumption of animals). Even if we accept that the God of the Bible is a moral authority, we can point out that "dominion" is a vague term, meaning "stewardship" or "control over". It is quite easy to argue that appropriate stewardship or control consists of respecting the life of animals and their right to live according to their own nature. The jump from dominion to approval of our brutal exploitation of animals is not contained in the cited Biblical passage, either explicitly or implicitly. DG
#17 Morals are a purely human construction (animals don't understand morals); doesn't that mean it is not rational to apply our morality to animals?
The fallaciousness of this argument can be easily demonstrated by making a simple substitution: Infants and young children don't understand morals, doesn't that mean it is not rational to apply our morality to them? Of course not. We refrain from harming infants and children for the same reasons that we do so for adults. That they are incapable of conceptualizing a system of morals and its benefits is irrelevant. The relevant distinction is formalized in the concept of "moral agents" versus "moral patients". A moral agent is an individual possessing the sophisticated conceptual ability to bring moral principles to bear in deciding what to do, and having made such a decision, having the free will to choose to act that way. By virtue of these abilities, it is fair to hold moral agents accountable for their acts. The paradigmatic moral agent is the normal adult human being.
Moral patients, in contrast, lack the capacities of moral agents and thus cannot fairly be held accountable for their acts. They do, however, possess the capacity to suffer harm and therefore are proper objects of consideration for moral agents. Human infants, young children, the mentally deficient or deranged, and nonhuman animals are instances of moral patienthood. Given that nonhuman animals are moral patients, they fall within the purview of moral consideration, and therefore it is quite rational to accord them the same moral consideration that we accord to ourselves. SEE ALSO: #19, #23, #36 DG
#18 If AR people are so worried about killing, why don't they become fruitarians?
Killing, per se, is not the central concern of AR philosophy, which is concerned with the avoidance of unnecessary pain and suffering. Thus, because plants neither feel pain nor suffer, AR philosophy does not mandate fruitarianism (a diet in which only fruits are eaten because they can be harvested without killing the plant from which they issue). SEE ALSO: #42-#46 DG
#19 Animals don't care about us; why should we care about them?
The questioner's position--that, in essence, we should give rights only to those able to respect ours--is known as the reciprocity argument. It is unconvincing both as an account of the way our society works and as a prescription for the way it should work. Its descriptive power is undermined by the simple observation that we give rights to a large number of individuals who cannot respect ours. These include some elderly people, some people suffering from degenerative diseases, some people suffering from irreversible brain damage, the severely retarded, infants, and young children.
An institution that, for example, routinely sacrificed such individuals to test a new fertilizer would certainly be considered to be grievously violating their rights. The original statement fares no better as an ethical prescription. Future generations are unable to reciprocate our concern, for example, so there would be no ethical harm done, under such a view, in dismissing concerns for environmental damage that adversely impacts future generations. The key failing of the questioner's position lies in the failure to properly distinguish between the following capacities:
The capacity to understand and respect others' rights (moral agency). The capacity to benefit from rights (moral patienthood).
An individual can be a beneficiary of rights without being a moral agent. Under this view, one justifies a difference of treatments of two individuals (human or nonhuman) with an objective difference that is RELEVANT to the difference of treatment. For example, if we wished to exclude a person from an academic course of study, we could not cite the fact that they have freckles. We could cite the fact that they lack certain academic prerequisites. The former is irrelevant; the latter is relevant. Similarly, when considering the right to be free of pain and suffering, moral agency is irrelevant; moral patienthood IS relevant. AECW
The assumption that animals don't care about us can also be questioned. Companion animals have been known to summon aid when their owners are in trouble. They have been known to offer comfort when their owners are distressed. They show grief when their human companions die. SEE ALSO: #17, #23, #36 DG
#20 A house is on fire and a dog and a baby are inside. Which do you save first?
The one I choose to save first tells us nothing about the ethical decisions we face. I might decide to save my child before I saved yours, but this certainly does not mean that I should be able to experiment on your child, or exploit your child in some other way. We are not in an emergency situation like a fire anyway. In everyday life, we can choose to act in ways that protect the rights of both dogs and babies. LK
Like anyone else in this situation, I would probably save the one to which I am emotionally more attached. Most likely it would be the child. Someone might prefer to save his own beloved dog before saving the baby of a stranger. However, as LK states above, this tells us nothing about any ethical principles. DVH
#21 What if I made use of an animal that was already dead?
There are two ways to interpret this question. First, the questioner might really be making the excuse "but I didn't kill the animal", or second, he could be asking about the morality of using an animal that has died naturally (or due to a cause unassociated with the demand for animal products, such as a road kill). For the first interpretation, we must reject the excuse. The killing of animals for meat, for example, is done at the request (through market demand), and with the financial support (through payment), of the end consumers. Their complicity is inescapable. Society does not excuse the receiver of stolen goods because he "didn't do the burglary".
For the second interpretation, the use of naturally killed animals, there seems to be no moral difficulty involved. Many would, for esthetic reasons, still not use animal products thus obtained. (Would you use the bodies of departed humans?) Certainly, natural kills cannot satisfy the great demand for animal products that exists today; non-animal and synthetic sources are required. Other people may avoid use of naturally killed animal products because they feel that it might encourage a demand in others for animal products, a demand that might not be so innocently satisfied. DG
This can be viewed as a question of respect for the dead. We feel innate revulsion at the idea of grave desecration for this reason. Naturally killed animals should, at the very least, be left alone rather than recycled as part of an industrial process. This was commonly practiced in the past, e.g., Egyptians used to mummify their cats. AECW
You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity. --Ralph Waldo Emerson (author)
#22 Where should one draw the line: animals, insects, bacteria?
AR philosophy asserts that rights are to be accorded to creatures that have the capacity to experience pain, to suffer, and to be a "subject of a life". Such a capacity is definitely not found in bacteria. It is definitely found in mammals. There is debate about such animals as molluscs and arthropods (including insects). One should decide, based upon available evidence and one's own conscience, where the line should be drawn to adhere to the principle of AR described in the first sentence. SEE ALSO: #39, #43 DG
#23 If the killing is wrong, shouldn't you stop predators from killing other animals?
This is one of the more interesting arguments against animal rights. We prevent human moral patients from harming others, e.g., we prevent children from hitting each other, so why shouldn't we do the same for nonhuman moral patients (refer to question #17 for a definition of moral patienthood)? If anything, the duty to do so might be considered more serious because predation results in a serious harm--death. A first answer entails pointing out that predators must kill to survive; to stop them from killing is, in effect, to kill them. Of course, we could argue that intervening on a massive scale to prevent predation is totally impractical or impossible, but that is not morally persuasive.
Suppose we accept that we should stop a cat from killing a bird. Then we realize that the bird is the killer of many snakes. Should we now reason that, in fact, we shouldn't stop the cat? The point is that humans lack the broad vision to make all these calculations and determinations. The real answer is that intervening to stop predation would destroy the ecosystems upon which the biosphere depends, harming all of life on earth. Over millions of years, the biosphere has evolved complex ecosystems that depend upon predation for their continued functioning and stability. Massive intervention by humans to stop predation would inflict serious and incalculable harm on these ecosystems, with devastating results for all life.
Even if we accept that we should prevent predation (and we don't accept that), it does not follow that, because we do not, we are therefore justified in exploiting moral patients ourselves. When we fail to stop widespread slaughter of human beings in foreign countries, it does not follow that we, ourselves, believe it appropriate to participate in such slaughter. Similarly, our failure to prevent predation cannot be taken as justification of our exploitation of animals. SEE ALSO: #17, #19, #36, #64 DG
#24 Is the AR movement against abortion? If not, isn't that hypocritical?
Attempts are frequently made to tie Animal Rights exponents to one side or the other of the abortion debate. Such attempts are misguided. Claims that adherence to the ethics of AR determine one's position on embryo rights are plainly counter-intuitive, unless one is also prepared to argue that being a defender of human rights compels one to a particular position on abortion. Is it the case that one cannot consistently despise torture, serfdom, and other barbaric practices without coming to a particular conclusion on abortion?
AR defenders demand that the rights currently held by humans be extended to all creatures similar in morally relevant ways. For example, since society does not accept that mature, sentient human moral patients (refer to question #17 for a brief description of the distinction between patients and agents) may be routinely annihilated in the name of science, it logically follows that comparable nonhuman animals should be given the same protection. On the other hand, abortion is still a moot point. It is plainly illogical to expect the AR movement to reflect anything other than the full spectrum of opinion found in society at large on the abortion issue. Fundamentally, AR philosophers are content with submitting sufficient conditions for the attribution of rights to individuals, conditions that explain the noncontroversial protections afforded today to humans. They neither encourage nor discourage attempts to widen the circle of protection to fetuses. AECW
There is a range of views among AR supporters on the issue of abortion versus animal rights. Many people believe, as does AECW, that the issues of abortion and AR are unrelated, and that the question is irrelevant to the validity of AR. Others, such as myself, feel that abortion certainly is relevant to AR. After all, the granting of rights to animals (and humans) is based on their capacity to suffer and to be a subject-of-a-life. It seems clear that late-term fetuses can suffer from the abortion procedure. Certain physiological responses, such as elevated heart rates, and the existence of a functioning nervous system support this view. It also can be argued that the fetus is on a course to become a subject-of-a-life, and that by aborting the fetus we therefore harm it. Some counter this latter argument by claiming that the "potential" to become subject-of-a-life is an invalid grounds for assigning rights, but this is a fine philosophical point that is itself subject to attack. For example, suppose a person is in a coma that, given enough time, will dissipate--the person has the potential to be sentient again. Does the person lose his rights while in the coma? While the arguments adduced may show that abortion is not irrelevant to AR, they do not show that abortion is necessarily wrong. The reason is that it is possible to argue that the rights of the fetus are in conflict with the rights of the woman, and that the rights of the woman dominate. All may not agree with this trade-off, but it is a consistent, non-hypocritical stance that is not in conflict with AR philosophy. SEE ALSO: #4 DG
This FAQ contains 96 questions. Do to C2C Share space considerations, only the first 24 are included here. To access all 96 FAQs, as well as more Animal Rights information, please visit http://animal-rights.com/
Sunday March 16, 2008, 10:50 am
Quite impressive Tom. A lot of information and obviously some well thought out responses to questions many people have been asked or asked themselves during their evolution to an activist for animal rights. I found that I ask myself one simple question: Would I want or allow this to be done to myself, my friend, family member or a child? You must actions must be in accordance to the answer to that question.
Monday March 17, 2008, 3:22 pm
Hi Jacqueline and Morgan,
Thanks for reading my share. I think if you're going to support a cause, it's a good idea to know exactly what you believe in and to be prepared to defend it with reasonable arguments. The FAQs were prepared by scholars who are much more knowledgeable than I. Reading their various answers helps me to understand where I stand on these issues.
One FAQ I found interesting was, "If the killing is wrong, shouldn't you stop predators from killing other animals?" Their answers: 1."Predators must kill to survive; to stop them from killing is, in effect, to kill them." and 2."The real answer is that intervening to stop predation would destroy the ecosystems upon which the biosphere depends, harming all of life on earth."
If someone said to me, "lions eat zebras so why shouldn't I eat cows," my response might be, 1."You're not a lion," 2."Lions have to eat other animals to survive, you don't," 3."Predators contribute to the ecological balance of nature," and 4."Eating meat is bad for the environment, unhealthy for people, and causes the suffering of billions of animals every year."
Thanks to my co-host Deedy, I attended a book launch party on Saturday where I met Gene Baur, who wrote "Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds About Animals and Food." Please visit his website at http://www.farmsanctuary.org/ to learn how his organization, Farm Sanctuary, "works to end cruelty to farm animals and promotes compassionate living through rescue, education and advocacy."
There is a video at http://www.meat.org/ called Meet Your Meat: "In a moving narration, actor and activist Alec Baldwin exposes the truth behind humanity’s cruelest invention – the factory farm." Warning: This video may cause vegetarianism.
Tuesday May 13, 2008, 10:18 am
Tom.....This is absolutely wonderful. Now I have
a source that provides not only deep inquiries, but intelligent arguments for animal welfare issues when my friends or "anyone" ask me. Thank you for providing this provacative piece.
Friday September 19, 2008, 6:59 pm
Just noticed the name Peter Singer. He is not an animal rights person he is totalitarian, he once said it was nessesary for animal testing if it was absolutely nessesary for humans.
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