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Animal rights, also referred to as animal liberation, is the idea that the most basic interests of animals should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of humans. Advocates approach the issue from different philosophical positions but agree that animals should be viewed as legal persons and members of the moral community, not property, and that they should not be used as food, clothing, research subjects, or entertainment.

The idea of awarding rights to animals has the support of legal scholars such as Alan Dershowitz and Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law Schoolmarker, while Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby argues that the movement has reached the stage the gay rights movement was at 25 years ago. Animal law is taught in 113 out of 180 law schools in the United States, in eight law schools in Canada, and is routinely covered in universities in philosophy or applied ethics courses. In June 2008, Spain became the first country to introduce an animal rights resolution, when a parliamentary committee voted in favor of limited rights for non-human primates, inspired by Peter Singer's Great Ape Project.

Critics argue that animals are unable to enter into a social contract or make moral choices, and therefore cannot be regarded as possessors of rights, a position summed up by the philosopher Roger Scruton, who writes that only humans have duties, and that, "[the] corollary is inescapable: we alone have rights." A parallel argument is that there is nothing inherently wrong with using animals as resources if there is no unnecessary suffering, a view known as the animal welfare position. There has also been criticism, including from within the animal rights movement itself, of certain forms of animal rights activism, in particular the destruction of fur farms and animal laboratories by the Animal Liberation Front.

Development of the idea

Moral status of animals in the ancient world

The 21st-century debates about how humans should treat animals can be traced back to the ancient world. The idea that the use of animals by humans—for food, clothing, entertainment, and as research subjects—is morally acceptable, springs mainly from two sources. First, there is the idea of a divine hierarchy based on the theological concept of "dominion," from Genesis (1:20-28), where Adam is given "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." Although the concept of dominion need not entail property rights, it has, over the centuries, been interpreted to imply some form of ownership.

There is also the idea that animals are inferior, because they lack rationality and language, and as such are worthy of less consideration than humans, or even none. Springing from this is the idea that individual animals have no separate moral identity: a pig is simply an example of the class of pigs, and it is to the class, not to the individual, that human responsibility or stewardship applies. This leads to the argument that the use of individual animals is acceptable so long as the species is not threatened with extinction.

17th century: Animals as automata

1641: Descartes

The year 1641 was significant for the idea of animal rights. The great influence of the century was the French philosopher, René Descartes (1596–1650), whose Meditations was published that year, and whose ideas about animals informed attitudes well into the 21st century.

Writing during the scientific revolution—a revolution of which he was one of the chief architects—Descartes proposed a mechanistic theory of the universe, the aim of which was to show that the world could be mapped out without allusion to subjective experience. The senses deceive, he wrote in the First Meditation in 1641, and "it is prudent never to trust wholly those who have deceived us even once."

His mechanistic approach was extended to the issue of animal consciousness. Mind, for Descartes, was a thing apart from the physical universe, a separate substance, linking human beings to the mind of God. The non-human, on the other hand, are nothing but complex automata, with no souls, minds, or reason. They can see, hear, and touch, but they are not, in any sense, conscious, and are unable to suffer or even to feel pain.

In the Discourse, published in 1637, Descartes wrote that the ability to reason and use language involves being able to respond in complex ways to "all the contingencies of life," something that animals clearly cannot do. He argued from this that any sounds animals make do not constitute language, but are simply automatic responses to external stimuli.

1635, 1641, 1654: First known laws protecting animals

Richard Ryder writes that the first known legislation against animal cruelty in the English-speaking world was passed in Ireland in 1635. It prohibited pulling wool off sheep, and the attaching of ploughs to horses' tails, referring to "the cruelty used to beasts," which Ryde writes is probably the earliest reference to this concept in the English language.

In 1641, the year Descartes' Meditations was published, the first legal code to protect domestic animals in North America was passed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The colony's constitution was based on The Body of Liberties by the Reverend Nathaniel Ward (1578–1652), a lawyer, Puritan clergyman, and University of Cambridgemarker graduate, originally from Suffolk, England. Ward listed the "rites" the Colony's general court later endorsed, including rite number 92: "No man shall exercise any Tirrany or Crueltie toward any bruite Creature which are usuallie kept for man's use." Historian Roderick Nash writes that, at the height of Descartes' influence in Europe, it is significant that the early New Englanders created a law that implied animals were not unfeeling automata.

The Puritans passed animal protection legislation in England too. Katheen Kete of Trinity Collegemarker, Hartford, Connecticut writes that animal welfare laws were passed in 1654 as part of the ordinances of the Protectorate—the government under Oliver Cromwell, which lasted 1653–1659—during the English Civil War. Cromwell disliked blood sports, particularly cockfighting, cock throwing, dog fighting, as well as bull baiting and bull running, both said to tenderize the meat. These could frequently be seen in towns, villages, in fairgrounds, and became associated for the Puritans with idleness, drunkenness, and gambling. Kete writes that the Puritans interpreted the dominion of man over animals in the Book of Genesis to mean responsible stewardship, rather than ownership. The opposition to blood sports became part of what was seen as Puritan interference in people's lives, which became a leitmotif of resistance to them, Kete writes, and the animal protection laws were overturned during the Restoration, when Charles II was returned to the throne in 1660. Bull baiting remained lawful in England for another 162 years, until it was outlawed in 1822.

1693: Locke

Against Descartes, the British philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) argued, in Some Thoughts Concerning Education in 1693, that animals do have feelings, and that unnecessary cruelty toward them is morally wrong, but—echoing Thomas Aquinas—the right not to be so harmed adhered either to the animal's owner, or to the person who was being harmed by being cruel, not to the animal itself. Discussing the importance of preventing children from tormenting animals, he wrote: "For the custom of tormenting and killing of beasts will, by degrees, harden their minds even towards men."

18th century: The centrality of sentience, not reason

1754: Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) argued in Discourse on Inequality in 1754 that animals should be part of natural law, not because they are rational, but because they are sentient:

1785: Kant

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), following Augustine, Aquinas, and Locke, opposed the idea that humans have duties toward non-humans. For Kant, cruelty to animals was wrong solely on the grounds that it was bad for humankind. He argued in 1785 that humans have duties only toward other humans, and that "cruelty to animals is contrary to man's duty to himself, because it deadens in him the feeling of sympathy for their sufferings, and thus a natural tendency that is very useful to morality in relation to other humans is weakened."

1789: Bentham

Four years later, one of the founders of modern utilitarianism, the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), although deeply opposed to the concept of natural rights, argued with Rousseau that it was the ability to suffer, not the ability to reason, that should be the benchmark of how we treat other beings. If rationality were the criterion, many humans, including babies and disabled people, would also have to be treated as though they were things. He wrote in 1789, just as slaves were being freed by the French, but were still held captive in the British dominions:

1792: Thomas Taylor

Despite Rousseau and Bentham, the idea that animals did or ought to have rights remained ridiculous. When Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), the British feminist writer, published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792, Thomas Taylor (1758—1835), a Cambridgemarker philosopher, responded with an anonymous tract called Vindication of the Rights of Brutes, intended as a reductio ad absurdum. Taylor took Wollstonecraft's arguments, and those of Thomas Paine's Rights of Man (1790), and showed that they applied equally to animals, leading to the conclusion that animals have "intrinsic and real dignity and worth," a conclusion absurd enough, in his view, to discredit Wollstonecraft's and Paine's positions entirely.

19th century: Emergence of jus animalium


The 19th century saw an explosion of interest in animal protection, particularly in England. Debbie Legge and Simon Brooman of Liverpool John Moores Universitymarker wrote that the educated classes became concerned about attitudes toward the old, the needy, children, and the insane, and that this concern was extended to non-humans. Before the 19th century, there had been prosecutions for poor treatment of animals, but only because of the damage to the animal as property. In 1793, for example, John Cornish was found not guilty of maiming a horse after pulling its tongue out, the judge ruling that he could be found guilty only if there was evidence of malice toward the owner.

From 1800 onwards, there were several attempts in England to introduce animal welfare or rights legislation. The first was a bill in 1800 against bull baiting, introduced by Sir William Pulteney, and opposed by the Secretary of War, William Windham, on the grounds that it was anti-working class. Another attempt was made in 1802 by William Wilberforce, again opposed by Windham, who said that bulls enjoyed being baited. In 1811, Lord Erskine introduced a bill to protect cattle and horses from malicious wounding, wanton cruelty, and beating, this one opposed by Windham because it would prejudice property rights. Judge Edward Abbott Parry writes that the House of Lordsmarker found the proposal so sentimental that they drowned Erskine out with cat calls and cock crowing.

1822: Martin's Act
In 1821, the Treatment of Horses bill was introduced by Colonel Richard Martin, MP for Galway in Ireland, but it was lost among laughter in the House of Commonsmarker that the next thing would be rights for asses, dogs, and cats.

Nicknamed "Humanity Dick" by George IV, Martin finally succeeded in 1822 with his "Ill Treatment of Horses and Cattle Bill," or "Martin's Act", as it became known, the world's first major piece of animal protection legislation. It was given royal assent on June 22 that year as An Act to prevent the cruel and improper Treatment of Cattle, and made it an offence, punishable by fines up to five pounds or two months imprisonment, to "beat, abuse, or ill-treat any horse, mare, gelding, mule, ass, ox, cow, heifer, steer, sheep or other cattle." Any citizen was entitled to bring charges under the Act.

Legge and Brooman argue that the success of the Bill lay in the personality of "Humanity Dick," who was able to shrug off the ridicule from the House of Commons, and whose own sense of humour managed to capture its attention. It was Martin himself who brought the first prosecution under the Act, when he had Bill Burns, a costermonger—a street seller of fruit—arrested for beating a donkey. Seeing in court that the magistrates seemed bored and didn't much care about the donkey, he sent for it, parading its injuries before a reportedly astonished court. Burns was fined, becoming the first person in the world known to have been convicted of animal cruelty. Newspapers and music halls were full of jokes about the "Trial of Bill Burns," as it became known, and how Martin had relied on the testimony of a donkey, giving Martin's Act some welcome publicity. The trial became the subject of a painting (right), which hangs in the headquarters of the RSPCA in London.

Other countries followed suit in passing legislation or making decisions that favoured animals. In 1882, the courts in New York ruled that wanton cruelty to animals was a misdemeanor at common law. In France in 1850, Jacques Philippe Delmas de Grammont succeeded in having the Loi Grammont passed, outlawing cruelty against domestic animals, and leading to years of arguments about whether bulls could be classed as domestic in order to ban bullfighting. The state of Washington followed in 1859, New York in 1866, California in 1868, Florida in 1889. In England, a series of amendments extended the reach of the 1822 Act, which became the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835, outlawing cockfighting, baiting, and dog fighting, followed by another amendment in 1849, and again in 1876.

1824: Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
Richard Martin soon realised that magistrates did not take the Martin Act seriously, and that it was not being reliably enforced. A number of members of parliament (MPs) decided to form a society with a view to bringing prosecutions under the Act. The Reverend Arthur Broome, a Balliolmarker man who had recently become the vicar of Bromley-by-Bow, arranged a meeting in Old Slaughter's Coffee House in St. Martin's Lanemarker, a London café frequented by artists and actors.

The group met on June 16, 1824, and included a number of MPs: Richard Martin, Sir James Mackintosh, Sir Thomas Buxton, William Wilberforce, and Sir James Graham, who had been an MP, and who became one again in 1826. They decided to form a "Society instituted for the purpose of preventing cruelty to animals," or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as it became known. It determined to send men to inspect the Smithfield Market in the City of London, where livestock had been sold since the 10th century, as well as slaughterhouses, and the practices of coachmen toward their horses.

The Society became the Royal Society in 1840, when it was granted a royal charter by Queen Victoria, herself strongly opposed to vivisection.

1824: Early examples of direct action
Noel Molland writes that, in 1824, Catherine Smithies, an anti-slavery activist, set up an SPCA youth wing called the Bands of Mercy. It was a children's club modeled on the Temperance Society's Bands of Hope, which were intended to encourage children to campaign against drinking and gambling. The Bands of Mercy were similarly meant to encourage a love of animals.

Molland writes that some of its members responded with more enthusiasm than Smithies intended, and became known for engaging in direct action against hunters by sabotaging their rifles, although Kim Stallwood of the Animal Rights Network writes he has often heard these stories but has never been able to find solid evidence to support them. Whether the story is true or apocryphal, the idea of the youth group was revived by Ronnie Lee in 1972, when he and Cliff Goodman set up the Band of Mercy as a militant, anti-hunting guerrilla group, which slashed hunters' vehicles' tires and smashed their windows. In 1976, some of the same activists, sensing that the Band of Mercy name sounded too accommodating, founded the Animal Liberation Front.

1866: American SPCA
The first animal protection group in the United States was the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animalsmarker (ASPCA), founded by Henry Bergh in April 1866. Bergh had been appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to a diplomatic post in Russia, and had been disturbed by the treatment of animals there. He consulted with the president of the RSPCA in London, the Earl of Harrowby, and returned to the U.S. to speak out against bullfights, cockfights, and the beating of horses. He created a "Declaration of the Rights of Animals," and in 1866, persuaded the New York state legislature to pass anti-cruelty legislation and to grant the ASPCA the authority to enforce it.

Other groups

The remainder of the century saw the creation of many animal protection groups. In 1875, the British feminist Frances Power Cobbe founded the Society for the Protection of Animals Liable to Vivisection, the world's first organization opposed to animal research, which became the National Anti-Vivisection Society. In 1898, she set up the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, with which she campaigned against the use of dogs in research, coming close to success with the 1919 Dogs (Protection) Bill, which almost became law.

1824: Development of the concept of animal rights

The period saw the first extended interest in the idea that non-humans might have natural rights, or ought to have legal ones. In 1824, Lewis Gompertz, one of the men who attended the first meeting of the SPCA in June that year, published Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes, in which he argued that every living creature, human and non-human, has more right to the use of its own body than anyone else has to use it, and that our duty to promote happiness applies equally to all beings.

In 1879, Edward Nicholson argued in Rights of an Animal that animals have the same natural right to life and liberty that human beings do, arguing strongly against Descartes' mechanistic view, or what he called the "Neo-Cartesian snake," that they lack consciousness. Other writers of the time who explored whether animals might have natural rights were John Lewis, Edward Evans, and J. Howard Moore.

1839: Schopenhauer
The development in England of the concept of animal rights was strongly supported by the German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860). He wrote that Europeans were "awakening more and more to a sense that beasts have rights, in proportion as the strange notion is being gradually overcome and outgrown, that the animal kingdom came into existence solely for the benefit and pleasure of man." He applauded the animal protection movement in England—"To the honor, then, of the English be it said that they are the first people who have, in downright earnest, extended the protecting arm of the law to animals."—and argued against the dominant Kantian idea that animal cruelty is wrong only insofar as it brutalizes humans:

Schopenhauer's views on animal rights stopped short of advocating vegetarianism, arguing that, so long as an animal's death was quick, men would suffer more by not eating meat than animals would suffer by being eaten. He wrote in The Basis of Morality: "It is asserted that beasts have no rights ... that 'there are no duties to be fulfilled towards animals.' Such a view is one of revolting coarseness, a barbarism of the West, whose source is Judaism." A few passages later, he called the idea that animals exist for human benefit a "Jewish stence."

1894: Henry Salt and an "epistemological breakthrough"
In 1894, Henry Salt, a former master at Etonmarker, who had set up the Humanitarian League to lobby for a ban on hunting the year before, created what Keith Tester of the University of Portsmouth has called an "epistemological break," in Animals' Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress. Salt wrote that the object of his essay was to "set the principle of animals' rights on a consistent and intelligible footing, [and] to show that this principle underlies the various efforts of humanitarian reformers ..." Concessions to the demands for jus animalium have been made grudgingly to date, he writes, with an eye on the interests of animals qua property, rather than as rights bearers:

He argued that there is no point in claiming rights for animals if we subordinate those rights to human desire, and took issue with the idea that the life of a human might have more moral worth or purpose. "[The] notion of the life of an animal having 'no moral purpose,' belongs to a class of ideas which cannot possibly be accepted by the advanced humanitarian thought of the present day—it is a purely arbitrary assumption, at variance with our best instincts, at variance with our best science, and absolutely fatal (if the subject be clearly thought out) to any full realization of animals' rights. If we are ever going to do justice to the lower races, we must get rid of the antiquated notion of a "great gulf" fixed between them and mankind, and must recognize the common bond of humanity that unites all living beings in one universal brotherhood."

Late 1890s: Opposition to anthropomorphism

Richard Ryder writes that attitudes toward animals began to harden in the late 1890s, when scientists embraced the idea that what they saw as anthropomorphism—the attribution of human qualities to non-humans—was unscientific. Animals had to be approached as physiological entities only, as Ivan Pavlov wrote in 1927, "without any need to resort to fantastic speculations as to the existence of any possible subjective states." This stance hearkened back to the position of Descartes in the 17th century that non-humans were purely mechanical, like clocks, with no rationality and perhaps even with no consciousness.

20th century: Increase in animal use; animal rights movement

1933: Tierschutzgesetz

On coming to power in January 1933, the Nazi Party passed the most comprehensive set of animal protection laws in Europe. Kathleen Kete of Trinity Collegemarker, Hartford, Connecticut writes that it was the first known attempt by a government to break the species barrier, the traditional binary of humans and animals. Humans as a species lost their sacrosanct status, with Aryans at the top of the hierarchy, followed by wolves, eagles, and pigs, and Jews languishing with rats at the bottom. Kete writes that it was the worst possible answer to the question of what our relationship with other species ought to be.

On November 24, 1933, the Tierschutzgesetz, or animal protection law, was introduced, with Adolf Hitler announcing an end to animal cruelty: "Im neuen Reich darf es keine Tierquälerei mehr geben." ("In the new Reich, no more animal cruelty will be allowed.") It was followed on July 3, 1934 by the Reichsjagdgesetz, prohibiting hunting; on July 1, 1935 by the Naturschutzgesetz, a comprehensive piece of environmental legislation; on November 13, 1937 by a law regulating animal transport by car; and on September 8, 1938 by a similar one dealing with animals on trains. The least painful way to shoe a horse was prescribed, as was the correct way to cook a lobster to prevent them from being boiled alive. Several senior Nazis, including Hitler, Rudolf Hess, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler, adopted some form of vegetarianism, though by most accounts not strictly, with Hitler allowing himself the occasional dish of meat. Himmler also mandated vegetarianism for senior SSmarker officers, although this was due mainly to health concerns rather than for animal welfare.

Shortly before the Tierschutzgesetz was introduced, vivisection was first banned, then restricted. Animal research was viewed as part of "Jewish science," and "internationalist" medicine, indicating a mechanistic mind that saw nature as something to be dominated, rather than respected. Hermann Göring first announced a ban on August 16, 1933, following Hitler's wishes, but Hitler's personal physician, Dr. Morrel, reportedly persuaded him that this was not in the interests of German research, and in particular defence research. The ban was therefore revised three weeks later, on September 5, 1933, when eight conditions were announced under which animal tests could be conducted, with a view to reducing pain and unnecessary experiments. Primates, horses, dogs, and cats were given special protection, and licenses to conduct vivisection were to be given to institutions, not to individuals. The removal of the ban was justified with the announcement: "It is a law of every community that, when necessary, single individuals are sacrificed in the interests of the entire body."

Medical experiments were later conducted on Jews and Romani children in camps, particularly in Auschwitzmarker by Dr. Josef Mengele, and on others regarded as inferior, including prisoners-of-war. Because the human subjects were often in such poor health, researchers feared that the results of the experiments were unreliable, and so human experiments were repeated on animals. Dr Hans Nachtheim, for example, induced epilepsy on human adults and children without their consent by injecting them with cardiazol, then repeated the experiments on rabbits to check the results.

Post 1945: Increase in animal use

Despite the proliferation of animal protection legislation, animals had no legal rights. Debbie Legge writes that existing legislation was very much tied to the idea of human interests, whether protecting human sensibilities by outlawing cruelty, or protecting property rights by making sure animals were not damaged. The over-exploitation of fishing stocks, for example, is viewed as harming the environment for people; the hunting of animals to extinction means that humans in the future will derive no enjoyment from them; poaching results in financial loss to the owner, and so on.

Notwithstanding the interest in animal welfare of the previous century, the situation for animals arguably deteriorated in the 20th century, particularly after the Second World War. This was in part because of the increase in the numbers used in animal research—300 in the UK in 1875, 19,084 in 1903, and 2.8 million in 2005 (50–100 million worldwide) and an modern annual estimated range of 10 million to upwards of 100 million in the U.S. —but mostly because of the industrialization of farming, which saw billions of animals raised and killed for food each year on a scale not possible before the war.

1960s: Formation of the Oxford group

A small group of intellectuals, particularly at Oxford Universitymarker—now known as the Oxford Group—began to view the increasing use of animals as unacceptable exploitation. In 1964, Ruth Harrison published Animal Machines, a critique of factory farming, which proved influential. Psychologist Richard D. Ryder, who became a member of the Oxford Group, cites a 1965 Sunday Times article by novelist Brigid Brophy, called "The Rights of Animals," as having encouraged his own interest. He writes that it was the first time a major newspaper had devoted so much space to the issue. Robert Garner of the University of Leicester writes that Harrison's and Brophy's articles led to an explosion of interest in the relationship between humans and non-humans, or what Garner calls the "new morality."

Brophy wrote:

Ryder had been disturbed by incidents he had witnessed as a researcher in animal laboratories in the UK and U.S., and in what he calls a "spontaneous eruption of thought and indignation," he wrote letters to the editor of The Daily Telegraph about the issue, which were published on April 7, May 3, and May 20, 1969. Brophy read them, and put Ryder in touch with Oxford philosophers Stanley and Roslind Godlovitch, and John Harris, who were working on a book of moral philosophy about the treatment of animals. Ryder subsequently became a contributor to their highly influential Animals, Men and Morals: An Inquiry into the Maltreatment of Non-humans (1971), as did Harrison and Brophy. Rosalind Godlovitch's essay "Animal and Morals" was published in the same year.

1970: Coining the term "speciesism"

In 1970, Ryder coined the phrase "speciesism" in a privately printed pamphlet—having first thought of it in the bath—to describe the assignment of value to the interests of beings on the basis of their membership of a particular species. Peter Singer used the term in Animal Liberation in 1975, and it stuck within the animal rights movement, becoming an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1989.

1975: Publication of Animal Liberation

It was in a review of Animals, Men and Morals for the The New York Review of Books on April 5, 1973, that the Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, first put forward his arguments in favour of animal liberation, which have become pivotal within the movement. He based his arguments on the principle of utilitarianism, the view, broadly speaking, that an act is right insofar as it leads to the "greatest happiness of the greatest number," a phrase first used in 1776 by Jeremy Bentham in A Fragment on Government. He drew an explicit comparison between the liberation of women and the liberation of animals.

In 1970, over lunch in Oxford with fellow student Richard Keshen, who was a vegetarian, Singer first came to believe that, by eating animals, he was engaging in the oppression of other species by his own. Keshen introduced Singer to the Godlovitches, and Singer and Roslind Godlovitch spent hours together refining their views. Singer's review of the Godlovitches' book evolved into Animal Liberation, published in 1975, now widely regarded as the "bible" of the modern animal rights movement.

Although he regards himself as an animal rights advocate, Singer uses the term "right" as "shorthand for the kind of protection that we give to all members of our species." There is no rights theory in his work. He rejects the idea that humans or non-humans have natural or moral rights, and proposes instead the equal consideration of interests, arguing that there are no logical, moral, or biological grounds to suppose that a violation of the basic interests of a human—for example, the interest in not suffering—is different in any morally significant way from a violation of the basic interests of a non-human. Singer's position is that of the English philosopher Henry Sidgwick (1838–1900), who wrote: "The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view ... of the Universe, than the good of any other."

The publication of Animal Liberation triggered a groundswell of scholarly interest in animal rights. Tom Regan wrote in 2001 that philosophers had written more about animal rights in the previous 20 years than in the 2,000 years before that. Robert Garner writes that Charles Magel's extensive bibliography of the literature, Keyguide to Information Sources in Animal Rights (1989), contains 10 pages of philosophical material on animals up to 1970, but 13 pages between 1970 and 1989.

1976: Founding of the Animal Liberation Front

In parallel with the Oxford Group, grassroots activists were also developing ideas about animal rights. A British law student, Ronnie Lee, formed an anti-hunting activist group in Luton in 1971, later calling it the Band of Mercy after a 19th-century RSPCA youth group. The Band attacked hunters' vehicles by slashing tires and breaking windows, calling their brand of activism "active compassion." In November 1973, they engaged in their first act of arson when they set fire to a Hoechst Pharamaceuticals research laboratory near Milton Keynesmarker. The Band claimed responsibility, identifying itself to the press as a "nonviolent guerilla organization dedicated to the liberation of animals from all forms of cruelty and persecution at the hands of mankind."

In August 1974, Lee and another activist were sentenced to three years in prison. They were paroled after 12 months, with Lee emerging more militant than ever. In 1976, he brought together the remaining Band of Mercy activists, with some fresh faces, 30 activists in all, in order to start a new movement. He called it the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a name he hoped would come to "haunt" those who used animals.

The ALF is now active in 38 countries, operating as a leaderless resistance, with covert cells acting on a need to know basis, often learning of each other's existence only when acts of "liberation" are claimed. Activists see themselves as a modern Underground Railroad, the network that helped slaves escape from the U.S. to Canada, passing animals from ALF cells, who have removed them from farms and laboratories, to sympathetic veterinarians to safe houses and finally to sanctuaries. Controversially, some activists also engage in sabotage and arson, as well as threats and intimidation, acts that have lost the movement a great deal of sympathy in mainstream public opinion.

The decentralized model of activism is intensely frustrating for law enforcement organizations, who find the cells and networks difficult to infiltrate, because they tend to be organized around known friends. In 2005, the U.S. Department of Homeland Securitymarker indicated how seriously it takes the ALF when it included them in a list of domestic terrorist threats.

The tactics of some of the more determined ALF activists are anathema to many animal rights advocates, such as Singer, who regard the animal rights movement as something that should occupy the moral high ground, an impossible claim to sustain when others are bombing buildings and risking lives in the name of the same idea. ALF activists respond to the criticism with the argument that, as Ingrid Newkirk of PETA puts it, "Thinkers may prepare revolutions, but bandits must carry them out."

1980: Henry Spira and "reintegrative shaming"

Henry Spira, a former seaman and civil rights activist, became the most notable of the new animal advocates in the United States. A proponent of gradual change, he introduced the idea of "reintegrative shaming," whereby a relationship is formed between a group of animal rights advocates and a corporation they see as misusing animals, with a view to obtaining concessions or halting a particular practice.

Spira's first campaign was in opposition to the American Museum of Natural Historymarker in 1976, where cats were being experimented on, research that he successfully persuaded them to halt. His most notable achievement was in 1980, when he convinced the cosmetics company Revlon to stop using the Draize test, whereby ingredients are dripped into the eyes of rabbits to test for toxicity. He took out a full-page ad in several newspapers, featuring a rabbit with sticking plaster over the eyes, which asked, "How many rabbits does Revlon blind for beauty's sake?" Revlon stopped using animals for cosmetics testing, donated money to help set up Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, and was swiftly followed by other leading cosmetics companies.

The techniques Spira used have been widely adopted by animal rights groups, most notably by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The approach has its critics on the abolitionist side of the movement, such as Gary Francione, who argue that it aligns the movement with 19th-century animal welfare societies, making them "new welfarists," rather than animal rights groups proper. It takes the movement back to its roots, critics argue, rather than moving toward the paradigm shift that the abolitionists want to see, whereby humans stop seeing animals as property, rather than as property to be treated kindly.

21st century: First rights proposed for animals

2008: Spain's parliamentary committee votes in favor of rights for non-human primates

On June 25, 2008, a committee of Spain's national legislature became the first to vote for a resolution to extend limited rights to non-human primates. The parliamentary Environment Committee recommended giving chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans the right not to be used in medical experiments or in circuses, and recommended making it illegal to kill apes, except in self-defense, based upon Peter Singer's Great Ape Project (GAP). Pedro Pozas of GAP in Spain called it "a historic day in the struggle for animal rights ... which will doubtless go down in the history of humanity." The committee's proposal does not have the force of law.

Main philosophical approaches


There are two main philosophical approaches to the issue of animal rights: a utilitarian and a rights-based one. The former is exemplified by Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princetonmarker, and the latter by Tom Regan, professor emeritus of philosophy at North Carolina State Universitymarker, and Gary Francione, professor of law and philosophy at Rutgers School of Law-Newark

Their differences reflect a distinction philosophers draw between ethical theories that judge the rightness of an act by its consequences (called consequentialism, teleological ethics, or utilitarianism, which is Singer's position), and those that judge acts to be right or wrong in themselves, almost regardless of consequences (called deontological ethics, of which Regan and Francione are adherents). A consequentialist might argue, for example, that lying is wrong if the lie will make someone unhappy. A deontologist would argue that lying is wrong in principle.

Within the animal rights debate, Singer does not believe there are such things as natural rights and that animals have them, although he uses the language of rights as shorthand for how we ought to treat individuals. Instead, he argues that, when we weigh the consequences of an act in order to judge whether it is right or wrong, the interests of animals, primarily their interest in avoiding suffering, ought to be given equal consideration to the similar interests of humans. That is, where the suffering of one individual, human or non-human, is equivalent to that of any other, there is no moral reason to award more weight to either one of them. Regan's and Francione's approaches, on the other hand, are not driven by the weighing of consequences. Regan believes that animals are what he calls "subjects-of-a-life," who have moral rights for that reason, and that moral rights ought not to be ignored. Francione argues that animals have one moral right, and need one legal one: the right not to be regarded as property. All else will follow from that one paradigm shift, he argues.

Utilitarian approach

Peter Singer: Equal consideration of interests

Singer is an act utilitarian, or more specifically a preference utilitarian, meaning that he judges the rightness of an act by its consequences, and specifically by the extent to which it satisfies the preferences of those affected, maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. (There are other forms of utilitarianism, such as rule utilitarianism, which judges the rightness of an act according to the usual consequences of whichever moral rule the act is an instance of.)

Singer's position is that there are no moral grounds for failing to give equal consideration to the interests of human and non-humans. His principle of equality does not require equal or identical treatment, but equal consideration of interests. A mouse and a man both have an interest in not being kicked down the street, because both would suffer if so kicked, and there are no moral or logical grounds, Singer argues, for failing to accord their interests in not being kicked equal weight. Singer quotes the English philosopher Henry Sidgwick: "The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view ... of the Universe, than the good of any other." This reflects Jeremy Bentham's position: "[E]ach to count for one, and none for more than one." Unlike the position of a man or a mouse, a stone would not suffer if kicked down the street, and therefore has no interest in avoiding it. Interests, Singer argues, are predicated on the ability to suffer, and nothing more, and once it is established that a being has interests, those interests must be given equal consideration. The issue of the extent to which animals can suffer is therefore key.

Animal suffering
Singer writes that commentators on all sides of the debate now accept that animals suffer and feel pain, although it was not always so. Bernard Rollin, a philosopher and professor of animal sciences, writes that Descartes' influence continued to be felt until the 1980s. Veterinarians trained in the U.S. before 1989 were taught to ignore pain, he writes, and at least one major veterinary hospital in the 1960s did not stock narcotic analgesics for animal pain control. In his interactions with scientists, he was often asked to "prove" that animals are conscious, and to provide "scientifically acceptable" evidence that they could feel pain.

Singer writes that scientific publications have made it clear over the last two decades that the majority of researchers do believe animals suffer and feel pain, though it continues to be argued that their suffering may be reduced by an inability to experience the same dread of anticipation as humans, or to remember the suffering as vividly. In the most recent edition of Animal Liberation, Singer cites research indicating that animal impulses, emotions, and feelings are located in the diencephalon, pointing out that this region is well developed in mammals and birds. Singer also relies on the work of Richard Sarjeant to support his position. Sarjeant pointed out that non-human animals possess anatomical complexity of the cerebral cortex and neuroanatomy that is nearly identical to that of the human nervous system, arguing that, "[e]very particle of factual evidence supports the contention that the higher mammalian vertebrates experience pain sensations at least as acute as our own. To say that they feel less because they are lower animals is an absurdity; it can easily be shown that many of their senses are far more acute than ours."Serjeant>Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation (2002), p. 12 citing Serjeant, Richard. The Spectrum of Pain (London: Hart Davis, 1969), p. 72.

The problem of animal suffering, and animal consciousness in general, arises primarily because animals have no language, leading scientists to argue that it is impossible to know when an animal is suffering. This situation may change as increasing numbers of chimps are taught sign language, although skeptics question whether their use of it portrays real understanding. Singer writes that, following the argument that language is needed to communicate pain, it would often be impossible to know when humans are in pain. All we can do is observe pain behavior, he writes, and make a calculated guess based on it. As Ludwig Wittgenstein argued, if someone is screaming, clutching a part of their body, moaning quietly, or apparently unable to function, especially when followed by an event that we believe would cause pain in ourselves, that is in large measure what it means to be in pain. Singer argues that there is no reason to suppose animal pain behavior would have a different meaning.

Equality a prescription, not a fact
Singer argues that equality between humans is not based on anything factual, but is simply a prescription. Humans do, in fact, differ in many ways. If the equality of the sexes were based on the idea, for example, that men and women are in principle capable of being equally intelligent, but this was later found to be false, it would mean we would have to abandon the practice of equal consideration. But equality of consideration is based on a prescription, not a description. It is, Singer writes, a moral idea, not an assertion of fact. He quotes President Thomas Jefferson, the principal author in 1776 of the American Declaration of Independence: "Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the property or persons of others."

Rights-based approach

Tom Regan: Subjects-of-a-life

Tom Regan argues in The Case for Animal Rights and Empty Cages that non-human animals are what he calls "subjects-of-a-life," and as such are bearers of rights. He argues that, because the moral rights of humans are based on their possession of certain cognitive abilities, and because these abilities are also possessed by at least some non-human animals, such animals must have the same moral rights as humans. Although only humans act as moral agents, both marginal-case humans, such as infants, and at least some non-humans must have the status of "moral patients." Moral patients are unable to formulate moral principles, and as such are unable to do right or wrong, even though what they do may be beneficial or harmful. Only moral agents are able to engage in moral action.

Animals for Regan have "inherent value" as subjects-of-a-life, and cannot be regarded as a means to an end. This is also called the "direct duty" view. His theory does not extend to all sentient animals but only to those that can be regarded as subjects-of-a-life. He argues that all normal mammals of at least one year of age would qualify in this regard. Whereas Singer is primarily concerned with improving the treatment of animals and accepts that, in some hypothetical scenarios, individual animals might be used legitimately to further human or non-human ends, Regan believes we ought to treat non-human animals as we would humans. He applies the strict Kantian ideal (which Kant himself applied only to humans) that they ought never to be sacrificed as a means to an end, and must be treated as ends in themselves.

Gary Francione: Abolitionism

Abolitionism falls within the framework of the rights-based approach, though it regards only one right as necessary: the right not to be owned. Abolitionists argue that the key to reducing animal suffering is to recognize that legal ownership of sentient beings is unjust and must be abolished. The most prominent of the abolitionists is Gary Francione, professor of law and philosophy at Rutgers School of Law-Newark. He argues that focusing on animal welfare may actually worsen the position of animals, because it entrenches the view of them as property, and makes the public more comfortable about using them.

Francione calls animal rights group who pursue animal welfare issues, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the "new welfarists," arguing that they have more in common with 19th-century animal protectionists than with the animal rights movement. He argues that there is no animal rights movement in the United States.


Carl Cohen

Critics such as Carl Cohen, professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan and the University of Michigan Medical School, oppose the granting of personhood to animals, arguing that rights holders must be able to distinguish between their own interests and what is right. "The holders of rights must have the capacity to comprehend rules of duty governing all, including themselves. In applying such rules, [they] ... must recognize possible conflicts between what is in their own interest and what is just. Only in a community of beings capable of self-restricting moral judgments can the concept of a right be correctly invoked."

Cohen rejects Singer's argument that, since a brain-damaged human could not make moral judgments, moral judgments cannot be used as the distinguishing characteristic for determining who is awarded rights. Cohen writes that the test for moral judgment "is not a test to be administered to humans one by one," but should be applied to the capacity of members of the species in general.

A non-Singer criticism of Cohen's argument is that it grants blanket protection to those humans who do not possess the capacity to recognize moral judgments, without being able to explain why these humans deserve special consideration for lacking a capacity deemed important (according to those who believe in its importance), and yet similar consideration is not granted to non-humans who lack the same capacity. A double standard and failure to address the subjectivity of the criteria claimed for determining moral value are thus thought to exist in Cohen's argument.

Posner–Singer debate

Judge Richard Posner of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit debated the issue of animal rights with Peter Singer on Slate. Posner argues that his moral intuition tells him "that human beings prefer their own. If a dog threatens a human infant, even if it requires causing more pain to the dog to stop it, than the dog would have caused to the infant, then we favour the child. It would be monstrous to spare the dog."

Singer challenges Posner's moral intuition by arguing that formerly unequal rights for gays, women, and certain races were justified using the same set of intuitions. Posner replies that equality in civil rights did not occur because of ethical arguments, but because facts mounted that there were no morally significant differences between humans based on race, sex, or sexual orientation that would support inequality. If and when similar facts emerge about the difference, or lack thereof, between humans and animals, the differences in rights will erode too. But facts will drive equality, not ethical arguments that run contrary to instinct, he argues.

Posner calls his approach "soft utilitarianism," in contrast to Singer's "hard utilitarianism." He argues: "The "soft" utilitarian position on animal rights is a moral intuition of many, probably most, Americans. We realize that animals feel pain, and we think that to inflict pain without a reason is bad. Nothing of practical value is added by dressing up this intuition in the language of philosophy; much is lost when the intuition is made a stage in a logical argument. When kindness toward animals is levered into a duty of weighting the pains of animals and of people equally, bizarre vistas of social engineering are opened up."

One argument made against Posner's claim of moral intuition or "tenacious moral instinct" is the fact that humans continue to victimize other humans, despite laws designed to curb such behavior. The fact that humans can enter a debate about whether humans have rights or how rights pertain to non-humans, and the existence of animal rights groups, are considered evidence that the instinct is dubious and not comparable to an instinct for hunger or procreation.

Roger Scruton

The British philosopher Roger Scruton argues that rights imply obligations. Every legal privilege, he writes, imposes a burden on the one who does not possess that privilege: that is, "your right may be my duty." Scruton therefore regards the emergence of the animal rights movement as "the strangest cultural shift within the liberal worldview," because the idea of rights and responsibilities are, he argues, distinctive to the human condition, and it makes no sense to spread them beyond our own species.

He accuses animal rights advocates of "pre-scientific" anthropomorphism, attributing traits to animals that are, he says, Beatrix Potter-like, where "only man is vile." It is within this fiction that the appeal of animal rights lies, he argues. The world of animals is non-judgmental, filled with dogs who return our affection almost no matter what we do to them, and cats who pretend to be affectionate when, in fact, they care only about themselves. It is, he argues, a fantasy, a world of escape.

Scruton's argument has been criticized for not being able to explain why "rights necessitates obligations" as a matter of objective fact when some humans (children, the mentally-handicapped, criminals) are afforded rights despite lacking the obligations, or why a requirement of moral standing must be reciprocal. He has also been criticized for claiming to know the thought processes of non-humans and their capacity for altruism, as well as underplaying the uniquely human aspects of taking pleasure from cruelty, for, as Mark Twain observed: "Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it."His position that nature is non-judgmental has also been used to argue that, since there is no authoritatively objective standard of determining moral status, then humans are able either to extend moral status to non-humans, or to restrict it according to criteria other than, or in addition to, species, such as race, gender and religion, a discrimination against fellow humans which continues despite laws (in some societies) designed to curb such behavior.

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