What Is Animal Rights?
People who support animal rights recognise that all animals have an inherent worth – a value completely separate from their usefulness to humans. We believe that every being with a will to live has the right to live free from exploitation and suffering.
Here are a few ways of understanding this vibrant, exciting movement.
It’s a Philosophy
Animal rights is based on ethical and moral philosophy. It has been discussed by some of the world’s most influential thinkers, from historical figures such as Pythagoras and Leonardo da Vinci – who embraced vegetarianism – to Jeremy Bentham, the founder of the utilitarian school of philosophy, who famously identified animals’ capacity for suffering as the characteristic that gives them a right to equal consideration.
“The question is not ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?'”
– Jeremy Bentham
All animals have the ability to suffer in the same way and to the same degree that humans do. They feel pain, pleasure, fear, frustration, loneliness and familial love. Whenever we consider doing something that would interfere with their needs, we are morally obligated to take them into account.
In his book Animal Liberation, the philosopher Peter Singer states that the basic principle of equality does not require equal treatment – it requires equal consideration. This is an important distinction when talking about animal rights. People often ask if animal rights means that animals should have the right to vote or drive a car. Of course, that would be silly because those aren’t rights that would benefit animals. But animals have the right not to suffer at the hands of humans and to live their lives free from suffering and exploitation because they have an interest in doing so. That is the difference between equal consideration and equal treatment.
You don’t have to be a philosopher to know that hurting animals is wrong. At its core, animal rights is simple. It’s about being kind to others – whether they’re members of our own species or not.
Almost everyone cares about animals in some context, whether it’s a beloved family companion, an irresistibly cute kitten or a majestic wild animal seen in a documentary. After all, we each have some built-in capacity for empathy and compassion, as can be seen from the lengths that children often go to in order to help animals.
Logically and morally, there’s no reason to differentiate in the way we treat the animals we share our homes with and those who are farmed for food. They’re all individuals, with the same capacity to feel pain and fear. Animal rights helps us to look past the arbitrary distinctions between different species, to rediscover our innate compassion and to respect all animals equally.
“When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. Each one values his or her life and fights the knife.”
– PETA founder Ingrid E. Newkirk
It’s a Way of Life
There’s nothing abstract about animal rights, and there are no barriers to getting involved. Anyone who cares about animals can start putting these principles into practice every single day with the food they eat, the clothes they wear and the products they buy. These choices are a form of nonviolent protest that makes a real difference both by reducing the profits of corporations that harm or kill animals and by creating a growing market for cruelty-free food, fashion, services and entertainment.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”
– Margaret Mead
It’s a Social Movement
Like other major social movements, animal rights brings people together from across political, religious and cultural boundaries to fight against injustice.
And like those movements, it’s also about fairness. Only prejudice allows us to deny others the rights that we expect to have for ourselves. Whether it’s based on race, gender, sexual orientation or species, prejudice is morally unacceptable. Alongside the struggles against racism, sexism and homophobia, there’s the struggle against speciesism – discrimination against other beings on the basis of their species.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
– Dr Martin Luther King Jr
It’s the Way Forward
Society is evolving and becoming fairer all the time. Despite all the people who say change will never happen, most countries in the world have outlawed human slavery and child labour Recognising the rights of animals is the next stage in our progress towards a fairer world.
As biologists and animal behaviourists learn more about animals’ intelligence and the complexity of their lives, there’s even less excuse for treating them as commodities rather than the sensitive individuals they are.
Most of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather and visiting zoos. Yet, just as we’ve made the mental shift towards a way of life that respects animals, so society as a whole must outgrow the unethical mindset that animals are here for us to use and kill as we please.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Animal Rights Needs You
Animals’ voices often go unheard. That’s why it’s vital that we speak out for them. Please don’t settle for a world in which cruelty is the norm – let animal rights into your life, and stand with the millions of people around the world who are doing everything they can to end the exploitation and killing of our fellow Earthlings.