Animal Welfare &
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This page compares animal rights with animal ethics, animal welfare, new welfarism, and nature conservation.
How do related animal philosophical outlooks compare with each other? Compare animal rights with three fundamentally different approaches: animal ethics, animal welfare (and new welfarism), and nature conservation.
Animal Rights vs Animal Ethics
A primary difference between animal rights and animal ethics is that animal ethics is a theoretical academic pursuit that seeks to understand how humans should relate to animals. It does not advocate any particular ideology or doctrine. It analyses animal rights as one of many viewpoints but does not advocate it. Animal rights, on the other hand, can be studied academically, and it is also a practical doctrine about relating in a certain way to animals. A musical analogy is appropriate: animal ethics is a bit like exploring musical theory whereas animal rights is like playing a specific musical instrument. Table 1 explains more by summarising important points.
This table explains more by summarising important points.
Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare
Table 1. Comparison of Animal Rights & Animal Ethics
|A practical pursuit of applying morality to everyday situations.
||An academic field of study that seeks to determine how we should behave to animals.
|Concentrates only on rights, a sub-set of animal ethics.
||Includes animal rights but has broader scope, eg overlaps with environmental ethics and utilitarianism.
|Asserts that using animals for human gain is morally wrong.
||Asks how we should treat animals and provides a number of approaches.
|Is a doctrine about how we should treat animals.
||Is impartial and does not offer any particular moral viewpoint about animals.
|Asserts that we have a duty to give animals rights and we should respect those rights.
||Attempts to resolve moral animal-human issues using a number of schemes.
|Concentrates on sentient animals.
||Applies to all animals.
Animal rights overlaps with animal welfare. But although both outlooks share similarities they have important differences that set them apart and make them conflicting philosophies, as this table shows.
Table 2. Comparison of Animal Rights & Animal Welfare
The Rights Position
The Animal Welfare Position
||Using animals is morally wrong.
||Using animals is morally right.
||We should not use animals to benefit ourselves.
||We can use animals to benefit ourselves.
||We should not invariably overrule the interests of animals with human interests.
||Our interests are always more important than the interests of animals.
||We should not inflict pain or death on animals.
||We should not cause animals 'unnecessary' pain or death.
||We should always treat animals humanely and eliminate the human-made causes of animal suffering.
||We should treat animals as humanely as convenient to us.
||Abolition of animal use.
|Stronger laws to protect animals.
||People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Humane Society of the United States.
|American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Animal rightists often disparage of animal welfare because the two philosophies are worlds apart in important respects. As the radical animal rights academic and activist Stephen Best says:
"Animal 'welfare' laws do little but regulate the details of exploitation."
The Epiphanies of Dr Steven Best, Claudette Vaughn. Vegan Voice. 2004. (Accessed online February 2007.)
An important difference in the practice of animal rights and animal welfare is that one is subjective and the other is objective. We cannot measure animal rights impartially or scientifically. It is a concept and a personal moral choice. It resembles the conviction of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 - 1804) that we should not harm humans even in the interests of the majority (a deontology philosophy). Animal rights takes Kant's view a step further and applies it to animals. As an ethical concept animal rights is close to deontology, which Kant advocated (see Chapter 2: Deontology).
Animal welfare, on the other hand, has the advantage that we can measure it objectively and manipulate it scientifically. To find which kind of bedding chickens prefer, we can count the number of chickens who seek to live on a straw floor or a wire mesh floor. Then we might provide the chickens with their choice, economic and other constraints permitting the animals' welfare. In terms of ethics, we can see animal welfare as part of consequentialism that is conceptually underpinned by utilitarianism.
Animal welfare has a variation called new welfarism, in outlook a cross between animal rights and animal welfare. New welfarism is the view that the best way to prevent animal suffering is to abolish the causes of animal suffering, but that abolition is an ideal long-term goal and meanwhile we must be pragmatic and improve the conditions of animals by advancing their welfare. Thus, for instance, new welfarists want to phase out fur farms and animal experiments but in the short-term they try to improve conditions for the animals in these systems, so they lobby to make cages less constrictive to reduce the numbers of animals used in laboratories.
New welfarism stands somewhere between animal welfare and animal rights.
- Animal welfarists believe people should use animals but treat them well.
- Animal rightists say people should not use animals and we must abolish the causes of animal suffering, for if there is no suffering then there is no need for welfare.
- New welfarists take the view that they support abolishing the causes of suffering but argue pragmatically that it will take a long time to achieve abolition and meanwhile they must do all they can to support the welfare of animals.
A major criticism of new welfarism by animal rightists is that it does not stop the exploitation of animals, even supports it, and therefore is a useless philosophy and the ultimate act of betrayal for animals. New welfarists respond by claiming that new welfarism is more achievable, and therefore of more immediate benefit to exploited animals, than the long-term and perhaps impossible goals of animal rights, such as demanding complete closure of anti-animal industries and changing the entrenched habits of billions of people.
Animal Rights vs Conservation
Animal rights and nature conservation are similar and different. Both became popular with the public in the late 1970's. Both oppose human-centredness (see Anthropocentrism), although not all conservationists do. Both believe that wild animals have intrinsic value (worth or importance independent of human values), though not an attitude shared by all conservationists. And both support conserving the environment, but for different reasons - conservationists for the sake of greater conservation, animal rightists for the animals who live in it.
Now the differences:
Table 3. Comparison of Animal Rights & Nature Conservation
|Concerned with the individual animal as well as with animals in general.
||Focuses on levels above the individual - populations, species, ecosystems and the biosphere - except when just a few individuals are the only survivors of their population or species.
|Refers usually to sentient animals, not necessarily to all animals, such as jellyfish or sponges, and not to plants.
||Encompasses all creatures (plants etc) and includes the physical part of nature, eg air, water and energy.
|Tries to minimise suffering of animals, especially when humans cause it.
||Conservationists say pain and death are a part of life which individuals must endure and that it is preferable that individuals suffer so long as their population or species survives.
|Concerned with animals in areas of human activity, such as agriculture, laboratories, fur trade, zoos and circuses.
||Not concerned with animals in areas of human activity unless the animals are taken from endangered populations or species.
Can you be an exclusive animal rightist, welfarist or conservationist - or for that matter, an exclusive deep ecologist (see next section: Deep Ecology)? Actually, being exclusively one or another may be the most difficult course. A better approach is to see these philosophies not as necessarily mutually exclusive but as reinforcing one another. We can surely be benignly flexible and adopt the best ideas and activities from each of them depending on the particular circumstances we encounter. Certainly, knowledge about each of them and their antitheses helps us understand the outlook of other people.
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