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Published: Thursday 31st of October 2013
Animal rights convey the idea that non-human animals are entitled to the same fundamental rights as humans are, in respect to their own lives, their basic needs and their interests. In the moral context of suffering, animal rights say that animals should not be subjected to needless suffering and should be given the same consideration as human beings.
Philosophers and advocates of animal rights oppose assigning specific moral values to certain species purely based on that species alone. The term “speciesism”, which has been around since the 1970s, was first mentioned by Richard Ryder. The argument is that prejudice for and against a species just because it is a member of that particular species is irrational, just like it would be irrational to be racist and to judge someone purely on the colour of that person’s skin. It is the same with animals. Why should an animal suffer just because they are of value to us? Is the human species more superior to that of a non-human animal? Animal rights activists argue on this point and the concept of speciesism, saying that an animal shouldn’t be viewed as a person’s property, food or medium of experimental research. Philosophers like Peter Singer say that there are no real lines to be drawn with species. He makes a good example between a species of ape and a human being – at some point, the species of ape evolved to become the human species, but why does this make humans different to other animals?
Many advocates for animal rights have been religious figures, with various religions accepting that certain animals should have rights, from Taoist beliefs, Buddhism, and Jainism. All these religions preach rights of some species of animal. Hinduism tells us that cows are sacred, for instance, but also allows the killing of other animals, so it is sometimes difficult to assess why. It is likely that the rights of many animals are based on what is said in religious teachings. This is why some philosophers view animals as objects for humans to enjoy, because they place more value on the human species than any other species. This tradition has been long accepted in many religions – God made man in his own image and so many species are “below” man. Look to the United States to see particular examples of this where even fetuses that aren’t even the size of a peanut can have more rights than fully grown animals that have the capacity to suffer and feel emotions. The main arguments against animal rights come from religion, saying that human life is sacred and is above all other forms of life. Many argue against this idea in favour of animals.
Why should an animal deserve equal consideration? Why can’t an animal just exist for our needs? Utilitarianism is a philosophy that is the basis for most animal rights where you try and live to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of species. If you live with this philosophy true to your beliefs, then it makes sense to give animals rights. As the famous philosopher Jeremy Bentham said: “The question is not ‘can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?’”
Many people around the world are realising that animals don’t need to be farmed for food. Scientific studies suggest that the protein you can get from animals is just as easy to get from plants. This is a good reason why animal rights are becoming more popular. Why should we need to farm animals just because we want their meat, eggs or milk when we can get the same amount of protein from plants? Plants will also suffer much less as they cannot think and aren’t conscious. Veganism is spreading as animal rights grow.
There are some arguments against this, however, like if a person lives in a place where they can’t grow vegetables, do they have to starve or is there an animal they could eat? In cases like this, you need to look at how much each species can suffer before you decide what is best. If three humans die because they don’t eat one cow, and there are no vegetables growing around them, then it could be right for them to eat the cow.
Animal rights is a hot topic, but as we’re becoming more understanding of the world we live in, the growing trend is that animal rights will increase as time goes on. There are some arguments that we don’t need to worry so much about an animal’s well-being, but most people agree that well-being of all species matters. As time goes on, we’ll see how animal rights change around the world.