Animal rights is the viewpoint that animals have rights and are worthy of ethical consideration in how humans interact with them.

Table of contents
1 Overview
2 Animal rights in law
3 Animal rights in philosophy
5 Further reading
6 External links


The concept of animal rights covers the spectrum of beliefs from the mildest viewpoint that gratuitous cruelty should be avoided to the extreme veiwpoint that animals are in every way persons: that they are autonomous, possess the animating spirit, have unique personalities, are aware of self and surroundings, feel pleasure and pain, have complex emotional nature, communicate, possess memory, are capable of learning, etc., and are thus deserving of the same rights as humans -- particularly the right to live in a free and natural state of their own choosing.

While many advocates of animal rights do support rights for animals in the strict philosophical or legal sense, the term primarily is used for the notion that animals should not be killed for food, imprisoned, experimented upon, or used in entertainment or sports.

Animal rights in law

Generally speaking, animals have been denied the same rights as human beings and corporations. However, animals are protected under the law in many jurisdictions. There are criminal laws against cruelty to animals, laws that regulate the keeping of animals in cities and on farms, transit of animals internationally quarrantine and inspection provisions. Generally speaking, these laws are designed to protect animals, or protect human interaction with animals, or regulate the use of animals as food or in food processing. In the common law it is possible to create a trust and have the trust empowered to see to the care of a particular animal after the death of the benefactor of the trust. Some eccentric wealthy individuals without children create such trusts in their will. Such trusts can be upheld by the courts if properly drafted and the testator was of sound mind. There are also many movements to give animals greater rights and protection under domestic and international law.

Animal rights in philosophy

Among the most famous philosophical proponents of animal rights are the philosophers Peter Singer and Tom Regan, who hold views that have much in common, but with different philosophical justifications (see below). Activists Karen Davis of United Poultry Concerns, Ingrid Newkirk of PETA, and Gary Francione of the Rutgers Universty Animal-Law Clinic, have each also presented fully-fledged political/personal philosophies of animal rights.

Although Singer is said to be one of the ideological founders of today's animal rights movement, his philosophical approach to an animal's moral status is not based on the concept of rights, but on the principle of equal consideration of interests. His book, Animal Liberation, argues that humans grant moral consideration to other humans not on the basis of intelligence (in the instance of children, or the mentally disabled), on ability to moralize (criminals and the insane), or on any other attribute that is inherently human, but rather on their ability to experience suffering. As animals also experience suffering, he argues, excluding animals from such consideration is a form of discrimination he calls 'speciesism'.

Tom Regan (The Case for Animal Rights), on the other side, claims that non-human animals that are so-called "subjects-of-a-life" are bearers of rights like humans, although not necessarily of the same degree. This means that animals in this class have "inherent value" as individuals, and cannot merely be considered as means for an end. This is also called a "direct duty" view on the moral status of non-human animals. According to Regan we should abolish the breeding of animals for food, animal experimentation and commercial hunting.

These two figures serve to illustrate the main differences within the animal rights movement. While Singer is primarily concerned with improving treatment of animals and accepts that, at least in some hypothetical scenarios, animals could be legitimately used for further (human or non-human) ends, Regan relies on the strict "Kantian" idea that animals are persons and ought never to be sacrificed as mere means. Yet, despite these theoretical discrepancies, both Singer and Regan mostly agree about what to do in practice: for instance, they both concur in that the adoption of a vegan diet and the abolition of nearly all forms of animal experimentation are ethically mandatory.

Gary Francione's work (Animals, Property, and the Law, is based on the premise that the main obstacle towards a society where animal rights are recognized is the legal status of animals as property. Francione claims that there presently is no proper animal rights movement in the United States, but only an animal-welfarist movement, and that any such movement which does not advocate the abolishment of the property status of animals is misguided, logically inconsistant and doomed to never acheiving its stated goal of improving the condition of animals. Francione says that a society which regards dogs and cats as family members yet kills cows, chickens, pigs, etc. for food exhibits "moral schizophrenia".

See also: Animal rights group, veganism, vegetarianism, anti-vivisection, ahimsa, Animal Liberation Front, imitation meat, in vitro meat, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals


Further reading

  • Francione, Gary (1995), Animals, Property and the Law, Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Regan, Tom (1984), The Case for Animal Rights, New York: Routledge.
  • Singer, Peter (1990), Animal Liberation, second edition, New York: Avon Books.

External links

Animal rights in philosophy and law

Animal rights organizations