It was established in the last chapter that animals are sentient (aware of pleasure and pain). Because animals are sentient, we should not cause them intentional and unnecessary pain and suffering. For example, consider if someone was to kick a cat or beat a dog. The act would, without a doubt, be considered an act of “animal cruelty” because we know it to be morally wrong; kicking a dog or a cat causes unnecessary suffering for the animal.
But what about other animals? What is our moral obligation to them? This chapter discusses animal rights and animal welfare, two different approaches to our moral obligation (assuming that there is one, and I do) to animals. This blog post will be my reaction to my chapter.
I believe in animal rights, which according to Bekoff means that I believe it is “wrong to cause animals any pain and suffering.” But I didn’t always used to be a rightist. Before I went vegan, I used to be simply a welfarist, or someone who Bekoff describes, “may insist that we should not cause [animals] excessive or unnecessary pain, and argue that if we consider animal welfare or well-being, then that is all we need to do.” For example, as a welfarist I bought “humane” animal products. Now, as an animal rights supporter, I understand that there is nothing humane about raising and killing animals for food, and I believe that doing so is morally wrong because no animal wants to be killed to become our “food.”
Let’s apply this chapter to a real-life problem. Consider this iconic image of Tommy, a chimp who is currently being held captive in a shed.
If you’re a welfarist, you might say that it’s okay to keep him captive, as long as he has enough space and food. But if you support animal rights, you’d probably want Tommy out of that cage and into a sanctuary, and you hopefully would agree with the Nonhuman Rights Project that Tommy has a right to bodily liberty!
So where do you stand? Do you believe that “animals’ lives are valuable in and of themselves,” that animals are not property or “things” (which is actually their current legal status), and that animals should not “abused or dominated at will”? (If you believe those things, please go vegan if you have not already!)
While I do not consider myself a welfarist anymore, I recognize the good that can come from welfare organizations. I appreciate that Bekoff highlights how an organization such as the Humane Society of the United States has successfully campaigned for numerous animal protections. I agree with him that there is some common ground between the welfarists and the rightists, and that there is work to be done together. For example, I support “welfarist” legislation such as the banning of gestation crates, veal crates, etc. What about you?
If you’re interested in learning more about animal rights, please check out the following links for further reading!
- Why Animal Rights? via PETA
- Animal Rights: a debate between Peter Singer and Richard Prosner
- Are you a legal person or a thing? via the Nonhuman Rights Project