Compare Animal Philosophies
We can evaluate and see animal rights in a better perspective by thinking about how different animal philosophy outlooks compare with it and with each other. Philosophies central to animals are animal rights, animal welfare, equal consideration, and nature conservation.
Animal rights overlaps with animal welfare. But although both viewpoints share similarities they have important differences that set them worlds apart and make them conflicting philosophies. See the table below for a summary. Animal rightists often disparage of animal welfare, 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.
An important difference between 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. 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 and pigs prefer, we can count the number of animals who seek to live on a straw floor instead of the usual wire mesh floor for chickens or concrete slats for pigs. Then we might provide them with their choice - economic and other constraints permitting the animals' welfare.
Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare
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 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 and reduce the numbers of animals in laboratories.
A criticism of new welfarism by animal rightists is that it supports the exploitation of animals and therefore is a useless approach. 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 animal industries and changing the entrenched habits of billions of people.
Equal Consideration of Moral Interests
In the context of animal-human relations, equal consideration of moral interests means giving equal deliberation to the relevant moral welfare of animals as well as to humans. Equal consideration of interests is not a new idea, but Peter Singer gave it wide circulation in his 1975 book Animal Liberation
. Singer says:
"Essentially this means that if an animal feels pain, the pain matters as much as it does when a human feels pain - if the pains hurt just as much. How bad pain and suffering are does not depend on the species of being that experiences it." Singer-Posner debate. Slate Magazine. June 2001.. 2004.
Singer often talks about animal rights, but only as a shorthand for liberating animals by giving them equal consideration of moral interests. The strong version of equal consideration states that animal and human interests are equally important, so that when animals and humans have a conflict of interests you must consider their interests equally, without humans taking precedence over animals automatically and without thought. With equal consideration you could experiment equally on humans as on animals; but if you are not prepared to experiment on humans then you cannot experiment on animals.
You must apply equal consideration to interests that are comparable. All animal species and humans share certain major interests in that they need nutrition, freedom of movement, social interaction with peers, and so on. Freedoms of speech and religion are human interests that are not comparable interests with animals, so do not consider them. This may seem obvious, but some people like to confuse the issue by trying to compare irrelevant interests (‘we should not give rights to pigs because pigs do not need free speech’).
Three advantages of applying the principle of equal consideration when deciding animal-human moral conflicts are:
- It counters the view that certain overriding attributes automatically decide in favour of humans, like possessing certain mental abilities, language, high intelligence, or membership of Homo sapiens.
- It avoids giving moral equality to animals on all issues because only comparable interests count. So you can limit your consideration to basic claims, such as to life, liberty and passing on your genes to the next generation.
- It could avoid giving equal moral status to all creatures. For example, we assume (perhaps wrongly) that insects experience pain in a lesser way than mammals, so that you might be harming them less than if you cause chimpanzees pain.
- A couple of weaknesses applying equal consideration are:
- It does not tell you which interests to consider. Basic interests like staying alive and avoiding pain are obvious. But you have to decide which other interests may be relevant and the difficulty is compounded by trying to know what is right for non-human species.
- It does not tell you how to evaluate relative weights of interests. Not everyone might accept that humans and animals are morally equal on every mutual comparable interest.
- This table points out some of the differences between equal consideration of moral interests and animal rights.
Equal Consideration of Interests vs Animal Rights
||The bestowal of moral benefits (ie rights) on animals to protect them from human exploitation.
||A moral principle stating that you should weigh the comparable moral interests of all creatures who will be affected by your actions.
||You cannot exploit animals. You have a moral duty to support the rights of all animals.
||Where comparable interests are involved, you can either exploit animals and humans equally or should not exploit either.
|What you should do
||Obey the rights that animals have (eg if animals have a right not to be abused by people, then you should not abuse them).
||Consider equally the comparable moral interests of all creatures influenced by your actions.
|Can trace roots to
Animal rights and nature conservation are similar and different. Both became popular with the public in the late 1970's. Both oppose human-centredness, 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, in this table:
Animal Rights vs 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 physic
|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, animal welfarist or nature conservationist? Actually, being exclusively one or the other may be the most difficult course. A better approach would be to see these philosophies as reinforcing one another. We can be benignly flexible and adopt the best ideas and activities from each outlook depending on the particular circumstances we encounter; the difficulties of the real world force us to be hard-headed at times. Certainly, knowledge about each of these outlooks helps us understand the attitudes adopted by other people.
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