Do animals have rights? Do animals have rights? Approaches to animal rights (1) Aristotle believed that animals existed only to provide for human needs. They were not able to reason and therefore had no moral status and no rights. However, today many have begun to question whether in fact animals do have rights — in particular, the right to proper treatment from human beings. Do animals have rights? Approaches to animal rights (2) There are three possible approaches to the topic of animal rights: • Animals have no moral status and are only of value in so far as they are useful to humans. They only act by instinct and cannot reason, so have no free will or conscience and therefore have no moral rights. • Animals have a moral status, but are of less worth than humans. They are worthy in themselves but only have limited moral rights — for example, the right not to be mistreated. Humans, as the superior species, may kill animals for food and other good reasons. • Animals have the same moral status as humans. If so, then animals have equal intrinsic value and deserve the same rights as humans. Animals should only be killed for food, and not for sport or medical experimentation. Do animals have rights? Religious teaching Christianity teaches that animals exist for the benefit of humans and the Bible teaches that it is permissible to kill and eat animals (Acts 10:11–15). Some Christians oppose the killing of animals, however, on the grounds that they are God’s creation and we must take care of them properly. Jesus said: ‘Are not five sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.’ (Luke 16:6) Do animals have rights? Bentham and Mill In his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789), Jeremy Bentham said: ‘The question is not, can they reason…but can they suffer?’ J. S. Mill: ‘Few human creatures would consent to be changed into any of the lower animals for a promise of the fullest allowance of the beast’s pleasures… . It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool or the pig are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their side of the question.’ Utilitarianism (1863) Do animals have rights? Theological development After the Reformation the idea of the ‘image of God’ was reinterpreted. Martin Luther and later Karl Barth saw it in terms of human relations with God, and later during the European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, and particularly after Schleiermacher, the ‘image of God’ was often understood as the human capacity for self-consciousness. Many modern theologians continue to be influenced by these two interpretations, added to the influence of science, which stresses human continuity with nature through our evolutionary heritage and our increased understanding and knowledge of animals; so Langdon Gilkey and Gregory R. Peterson argued that all of nature should be understood as being in the ‘image of God’. Do animals have rights? Sanctity of life People who hold a strong sanctity of life stance are often called pro-life and appeal to the Biblical basis of their ideas: God is the giver and creator of life and people have no right to destroy what he has given. People are seen as created in the ‘image of God’ — imago dei — so humans are set apart from other animals and have a ‘spark’ of divinity within them: the breath of life was breathed by God into Adam. This is reflected in the view that animals do not have souls. Do animals have rights? Peter Singer Singer is a Preference Utilitarian, and so believes that animals should receive equal preference. He argues that the principle of equality we apply to people of different races should also apply to animals. Both animals and humans should be treated equally. Singer has been called the philosopher of the animal liberation movement and also advocates vegetarianism and no animal experimentation. He used a set of criteria for moral status based on sentience. This means that moral worth includes animals — if not, we are guilty of ‘specieism’. Our treatment of all humans and animals should be equal. Do animals have rights? Andrew Linzey (1) Animals have sentience so should we extend moral standing to them? In the past our attitude and treatment of animals was very different — extinction was the result of deliberate hunting and killing. However, we still use animals in sport, we farm them, often intensively; we keep them in zoos and experiment on them for research. It is a mark of our change in attitude towards animals that there is now a centre in Oxford for animal ethics. Andrew Linzey was the first professor of ethics, theology and animal welfare at Oxford, and writes against animal cruelty, hunting, fur farming and animal experimentation. Linzey considers that God’s love for creation is inclusive of animals, and so he advocates vegetarianism, as most meat is the product of intensive farming, and that we should live more simply so that others may live. Do animals have rights? Andrew Linzey (2) He writes: ‘Since animals belong to God, have value to God and live for God, then their needless destruction is sinful. In short: animals have some right to their life, all circumstances being equal. Western society is so bound up with the use and abuse of animals in so many fields of human endeavour…that it is impossible for anyone to claim that they are not party, directly or indirectly, to this exploitation either through the products they buy, the food they eat, or the taxes they pay.’ Christianity and the Rights of Animals (1987) Do animals have rights? Criticism (1) Kant denies that domestic animals are to be treated only as tools and insists that there are moral limits on how we should use them. Animals should not be worn out and overworked, nor should they be cast aside once they are too old. Kant thinks it is all right to kill animals for food, but killing for sport he sees as morally wrong. Kant also thinks that we have moral duties regarding the natural world and must not destroy it. He explains that treating animals or the natural world badly makes us into cruel and callous people who will then treat other people badly. People who torment animals are likely to do the same to humans, according to Kant. So cruelty towards animals would not be condemned in its own right, but because of its consequences for humans it should be considered intrinsically wrong. Do animals have rights? Criticism (2) Roger Scruton in Animal Rights and Wrongs (1996) used an argument based on Kant’s approach that restricts animal rights to animals that are kept by humans, but says that we do not have a duty of care to wild animals. He considers that wild animals have no greater standing than wild plants, which we may respect because they are beautiful or interesting or a valuable part of the ecosystem, but that is all. Scruton would allow fox hunting but not factory farming.
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