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Animal rights is the concept that animals have some rights, in a similar sense to the concept of human rights, although not necessarily equivalent. For example, though animal rights activists do not advocate for an animal's right to vote in an election, they may advocate for an animal's right to own its own body.
Depending on the person talking about it, these rights can vary widely, and range from "we should try to minimize the harm we inflict and not engage in needless cruelty" to "animals are people and should have basically the same rights". There are disagreements about whether animal rights should apply to creatures, or only those which are capable of experiencing suffering — or, as cynics might point out, those that are fluffy and cute. It is notable that the activities of animal rights activists tend to focus more on the treatment of mammals and birds, for example, rather than insects, although there certainly are some who object to the silk and honey industries. Many animal rights activists are also some degree of vegetarian.
A differing, less dramatic form of animal care is the concept of “animal welfare”. While many people and groups use the terms "animal welfare" and "animal rights" interchangeably, there is a significant difference between the two.
The concept of “animal welfare” holds that humans have a duty to protect animals and that cruelty and suffering inflicted on them should be minimised wherever possible. The animal welfare position holds that it is morally justified to use animals for food, clothing, entertainment, or scientific research as long as their care is good and needs are met. Groups like these believe that human interests ultimately come before animal interests, but care should still be provided towards them. Examples of animal welfare groups include the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Captive Animals' Protection Society (CAPS), and, in the United Kingdom, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).
The "animal rights" position, however, claims that this is not good enough. Animal rights proponents will argue that animals to be given equal consideration that is given to humans, that animals should be free to live their own lives, and that they should never be used to benefit humans for any purpose, regardless of how well they are treated. They believe all animal use to be exploitative in and of itself. A racist comparison these groups will often use is slavery, stating that slavery itself would not be justified just because the slaves were treated well. Examples of animal rights groups are Animal Aid, PETA, and In Defense of Animals.
Nevertheless, the two terms are often used synonymously. Indeed, philosophers such as Baruch Spinoza would have disagreed with the widespread use of the concept of animal rights; he equated the concept of right with a power to do something and therefore would have thought that the term animal rights was misleading since animals lacked power to do things like vote intelligently, carry on a conversation, or purchase a candy bar. Most likely, he would have preferred the term animal welfare instead.
Despite the many potential benefits of animal experimentation, many animal rights activists are actively opposed to it and protest any use of animals in research, claiming it is a form of speciesism and therefore morally unjustifiable. They argue that the claims that animal testing has significant benefits for humans and animals are not justification enough for animal testing to take place.
As a result of this, many animal rights activists have earned the ire of some in the scientific community by trying to put an end to animal testing — even going so far as threatening to kill scientists who engage in animal testing, as well as those who benefit from animal testing. This ignores the real contributions animal testing has made to our understanding of drugs and disease — including drugs and diseases that impact animals.
The animal rights view regarding keeping animals as pets is often distorted and exaggerated. Traditionally, right-wing groups have claimed animal rights activists as wanting to kill, steal, or "liberate" people’s pets because the animal rights position is opposed to animal use by humans in any way.
However, the approach of many animal rights groups is often more complicated than that. Animal rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) do indeed think pet ownership is wrong, but instead ask for current pet owners to spay or neuter their pets, to reduce the populations of dogs or cats. Essentially, neutering the animals to extinction so that, over time, the industry of keeping pets will be phased out. They argue that the pet industry causes way more harm to animals than it does good. PETA, for instance, argues that for every cat or dog who has a good home, many others are homeless on the streets, waiting in animal shelters or with incompetent and/or abusive owners, but PETA is also killing pets in their own shelters.
Animals may live longer under human care than they would in the wild, depending on the species and the quality of care they receive. Zoo mammals, such as elephants, often have longer lifespans than their wild counterparts. On the other hand, orcas, who need a vast space of water to not injure themselves, often end up dying in captivity.
It should also be noted that animal rights groups tend to prefer the terms "companion animals" and "guardians" to "pets" and "owners", respectively.
There are several arguments for animal rights.
Many have tried to use evolution to defend or attack animal rights. Some people claim that "animal rights" is a logical inference from the theory of evolution, since evolution says that people and animals are somehow "equal". There are some who claim that we should be able to kill and eat all the fluffy animals we want because, hey, we're the more evolved species. They don't really understand evolution, either.
Core to the argument for animal rights is the concept of sentience — the ability to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively. Since almost all animals are sentient, it follows that such animals have rights. For example, such animals have the right to not be unnecessarily harmed, descending from the moral principle that it is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering.
Many animals are best viewed not only as sentient beings, but as conscious beings or unique individuals. The 2012 Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, for example, concludes that “the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness” and that many “nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
Argument from marginal cases
The argument from marginal cases is an attempt to show that you cannot consistently hold that all humans should have rights, but no non-human animals should. The argument goes that if we give human infants, the senile, the comatose, and the cognitively disabled ("marginal case humans") rights, we also must give at least some animals rights, since there is no known morally relevant capacity possessed by all those humans and not possessed by any animals. The only trait universally shared by humans, the thought goes, is membership of the species homo sapiens, but to base moral status on species membership is apparently arbitrary — speciesism. On the other hand, to base moral status on anything else will require granting moral status to at least some animals or denying such status to some humans. Since the latter is transparently abhorrent, we must grant moral status to some animals. Naturally, the argument tends to alarm those who might be considered "marginal cases", since reality has shown that what is abhorrent is not obvious to everybody, and being compared to animals has not historically been auspicious for the subjects of the comparison.
There are several arguments against animal rights.
Some philosophers, such as Carl Cohen, deny that animals have rights since animals can neither understand nor act on such rights. However, one need not be a moral agent to have rights; otherwise, infants, the senile, and the severely intellectually disabled would lack rights altogether. To be fair, infants will (usually) eventually become able to understand or act on such rights as they mature to adults and those that are senile typically had that capability at some point in their lives.
In response to this accusation, Cohen grants exemptions to all and only human beings, no matter how disabled. However, there is no justification for this position other than species membership, which animal rights activists attack as special pleading. But special pleading is a conditional fallacy, which means it's not a logical fallacy when used correctly.
In this view, it would be better to reserve the word cruelty for things that humans do to other humans.[note 1] If we allow cruelty to apply to animals, then animals live in a world of endless cruelty perpetrated by other animals. But animals can't be cruel. That tiger, sundew and flatworm are just following their internal programs (same way humans do most of the time) and doing what they need to get by. Animals don't live in a moral universe where cruelty describes what they do to each other, even if a cat playing with a mouse may seem analogous to human cruelty. The cat, too, is only executing its program. Any duty we have to avoid unnecessary suffering on animals is a duty we owe, not to animals, but to our better selves. This duty applies to disabled humans as well. But humans have no duties to animals. To claim that humans do is to place humanity on a pedestal above other animals: human exceptionalism, or "speciesism", if you take the word seriously.
Of course, avoiding cruelty does not exhaust the list of human virtues. Should we be generous to animals? It seems downright uncharitable to deny our garbage to that bear. Of course, human generosity to animals alters their behavior, and since no one disputes that much animal behavior has a genetic basis, it changes them in ways that we cannot predict. When we gave red foxes less reason to fear us, some populations among them became much bolder around humans. The loss of this skittishness is one thing that leads animals down the primrose path to the sort of relationship with humans that animal rights people tend to condemn.
We forget that domestication was in one sense "voluntary" for the domesticated animal. There are plenty of animals that have never been domesticated, which is unfortunately why you won't see a zebra in the Kentucky Derby any time soon. Riding zebras would be awesome, but for most of them, it just isn't in their make-up; it was in the ancestors of domesticated horses. All of the domestic animals showed up at human domiciles wanting to be parasites. Some were parasites that the humans also found useful, and therefore encouraged them to stick around. IT'S A TRAP!! — and it was for the humans as much as it was for the animals. Other animals have been effectively 'domesticated' due to long periods of co-evolution with humans, even if humans derive no benefit from their presence. They usually do not thrive outside of areas colonized by humans. Such animals include pests like the house mouse and bed bug, but also mostly innocuous species that have simply followed humans such as the house sparrow.
Amorality rights argument
In his 2001 succedaneum, Defending Animal Rights, Tom Regan formulates one of Cohen’s arguments as follows:
- 1. Animals live in an amoral world, where nothing is either right or wrong.
- 2. Those who live in an amoral world cannot have rights.
- 3. Therefore, animals do not have rights.
Regan counters that, though animals, as moral patients, may have no rights claims against each other, they can still have rights claims against moral agents.
See above section. The concept of animal rights has taken root chiefly in northwestern Europe and North America. Cultural attitudes and traditions as to the appropriate treatment of animals vary widely among cultures. An argument against animal rights would be its inconsistent application, lending to "some animals are more equal (to humans) than others" situation. For example, arguments against consuming dogs and cats can stem from xenophobia and hypocrisy, based on strong cultural differences and flawed arguments that try to put dogs and cats on a different pedestal than other animals. These arguments include dogs are meant to be "companions" (though we daily kill chickens which can also be kept as pets, and they can make for affectionate pets), dogs are "intelligent" (pigs are on par with dogs with intelligence), dogs are suffering (it disregards our lifestock at home. This is the best argument, though it isn't enough to call for an outright banning of consuming dogs). Nevertheless, there is a huge controversy in China in the Yulin dog meat-eating festival, where animal rights activists and dog lovers fight to put an end to eating dogs partially because they think eating dog in of itself is wrong, though other more valid reasons include the massive mistreatment of dogs and kidnapping of entire families of dogs. Why there isn't a mass international outrage against how we mistreat chickens, cows, pigs, and others in our countries just underscores the inconsistency applied to each animal and can be an argument against animal rights or at least the enormous difficulty of applying it consistently.
Animal-rights activists, "rescuing" dogs from being eaten in Korea, managed to import a strain of the canine distemper virus to Canada that had previously been unknown in North America. Their activities put local wildlife at increased risk of contracting the disease.
There is also a vocal opposition from cat owners on the proposal to keep cats indoors or even euthanize cats to prevent other wildlife from being killed. While this may not be representative of animal rights philosophy, humans often, again, apply a special standard to animals they like, even if it's to the detriment of many other animals. Additionally, the cat owners that decry euthanizing stray or feral cats (and promote trap, neuter, and release) do not care about the extermination campaigns on the burmese python and do not advocate trap neuter release for any other animal.
Other examples include Spain and some areas of Latin America, where blood sports such as bullfighting continue to be practiced and are considered integral parts of the culture. Cockfighting has an even broader appeal, not only in Latin America, but also throughout South and East Asia and Southern France; in places like Bali and southern India it has religious overtones. Animal sacrifice is an important religious ritual in many non-European cultures, from Hinduism and Islam to Santería and Vodun. Animal rights activists have lobbied for the persecution of Santería in the United States. Animal rights activists have also sought to interfere with the exercise of hunting and fishing rights promised to Native Americans under treaties.
At its most extreme, animal rights activists may advocate the social oppression of an entire population for their inhumane treatment of animals and in some cases even outright genocide, as exemplified by the antisemitic rhetoric that was employed by animal rights activists in the 19th century, which ended up being supported by Richard Wagner and being a talking point of Adolf Hitler. Even now, you may still find Golden Dawn enthusiasts using the argument that some people deserve to die because they abuse animals. There is an odd mutual attraction between veganism and white supremacism, with white supremacists from Hitler to Savitri Devi claiming that veganism is the Aryan way.
Many religious people, who believe that humanity was created superior to animals, reject the concept of animal rights, but support animal welfare campaigns because they do not wish God's other creatures to suffer.
Compared to religions where you might be reborn as an animal, the Bible spends comparatively less time concerned with animal welfare. One of the Noahide laws prohibits eating parts of an animal while still alive; however, the Bible says nothing of how long one can keep an animal or in how small a cage. Also, according to the Bible, animals are supposed to be allowed rest on the Sabbath (Ex. 20:10) and can't be muzzled to prevent them from eating while working in the field (Deut. 25:4), just as human field workers are supposed to be allowed. Animals are supposed to be killed as quickly and painlessly as possible (Shechita). It is also a violation of Jewish law to spay, neuter, dock, or to otherwise surgically alter an animal without a valid medical reason (tza'ar ba'alei chayim, or causing suffering to animals). The Torah specifically prohibits castrating males of any species (Lev. 22:24), although this law does not specifically mention neutering female pets, allowing room for misogynist misinterpretation. Similarly, circumcising animals isn't specifically prohibited either, as it's generally presumed circumcision is an exclusively human part of the covenant, and that
humans nonbelievers aren't covered as a protected type of animal, having evolved from them. Some religions, like Buddhism and Jainism, forbid harm to all creatures (as do certain Hindus), which could be held as supportive of animal rights. Vegetarianism is common among members of these faiths as a result.
Evidence of factory farm abuse of animals promotes support for animal rights and all the evils associated with it, such as vegetarianism. And that impacts profit. So, the First Amendment be damned. By 2015, seven U.S. states had passed "Ag-gag laws," statutes that criminalize sneaking recording devices into industrial farming operations that raise animals for consumption, food products, or fur. Idaho's Ag-gag law was declared unconstitutional, but the statutes in the other states remain on the books. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is part of a coalition of 70 organizations working in opposition to these laws. The ASPCA states:
“”Ag-gag laws are a direct threat to animal welfare. We know that animals are often cruelly treated in factory farms and slaughterhouses. Documentation of this treatment not only helps educate the public about farm animal abuse, but also influences industry and government entities to make real changes for farm animals.
Ever since Upton Sinclair revealed horrific abuses in Chicago's slaughterhouses in the early 20th century, the farm industry has sought to prevent whistleblowers from documenting conditions in their operations. Ag-gag laws represent a vigorous new attack on the damage such revelations — especially videotapes — cause to their business. In Idaho, the industry actually drafted the bill that was passed in that state, and was in response to:
“”[A]n activist-film[ing] undercover video that showed cows at an Idaho plant being beaten by workers, dragged by the neck with chains, and forced to live in pens covered in feces, which activists said made the cows slip, fall and injure themselves. The facility, Bettencourt Dairies, is a major supplier for Burger King and Kraft. The workers who were filmed were fired.
In a latest incident which shows animals should be considered at par with humans is the election of Ms. Beatha Lee as the president of Hillbrook-Tall Oaks Civic Association in Virginia. What this has to do with animal rights? Well, Ms. Lee is a Wheaten Terrier.
- Animal Rights Militia
- Animal Liberation Front
- Plant rights
- Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty
- Vegetarianism and Veganism
- Essay:Why You Shouldn't Eat Meat
- Essay:Why cockfighting is the acid test of multiculturalism
- Animal Rights FAQ
- Animal welfare and animal rights are very different beasts by Robert John Young.
- Op-ed: Listen Up, Problematic White Vegans, Stop Comparing Black Oppression to Meat Eating by Robust Health.
- Animal Suffering and the Holocaust: The Problem with Comparisons by Roberta Kalechofsky.
- Animal Rights, Human Wrongs: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy Tom Regan
- Cruelty-Free Silk or Peace Silk
- Veganism has a serious race problem by Claire Heuchan Media Diversified
- Spinoza's Political Philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,...see discussion on rights...,Apr 21, 2008 
- Shocking Photos: PETA’s Secret Slaughter of Kittens, Puppies by Nathan J. Winograd. Huffington Post‘’s
- Most mammals have a greater life expectancy in zoos, study finds Science Daily
- The Fate of Captive Orcas WRC
- These creatures faced extinction. The Endangered Species Act saved them. by Darryl Fears. Washington Post
- Most Captive-Born Predators Die If Released National Geographic
- Scott, Dawn. How the red fox adapted to life in our towns and cities, The Conversation, May 30, 2017.
- See the Wikipedia article on domestication of the horse.
- See generally Scott, James C.. Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States. (Yale, 2017. ISBN 9780300182910); and Cunliffe, Barry. "Against the Grain by James C Scott review – the beginning of elites, tax, slavery", The Guardian, Nov. 25, 2017.
- BBC news (22 June 2015) China Yulin dog meat festival under way despite outrage. Retrieved March 6, 2017.
- Huang, S. (June 9, 2016). New York Times. China’s Dog Meat Festival Is Again at Hand, and Opponents Are Lining Up. Retrieved March 9, 2017.
- Michael Brice-Saddler, Want to rescue a dog from overseas? It might carry a new strain of disease, researchers say, The Washington Post, Mar. 27,2019.
- Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993).
- Merced v. Kasson, 577 F.3d 578 (5th Cir.m 2009)
- Matthew Weinbaum, Makah Native Americans Vs. Animal Rights Activists, Univ. Michigan
- Treaty Rights, Indians of the Midwest.
- Lighting the Seventh Fire, PBS.
- Offenes Schreiben an Herrn Ernst von Weber Verfasser der Schrift Die Folterkammern der Wissenschaft, 1879, R. Wagner, Gesammelte Werke, Leipzig 1888.
- De Koning, Alexis. Why So Many White Supremacists Are into Veganism. Vice, Oct. 19, 2017.
- It would also be prudent to reserve "cruelty" for excessive inducement of pain. For instance, if someone tried to strangle you, it would not be cruel to punch them in the face and knock them to the ground so that you can extricate yourself from the situation and preserve your own life. It would be, at best… less justifiable to crush their ankles to guarantee that they could not pursue you, and it could be considered outright cruel to proceed to stomp on their face until only pulp remained in order to eliminate them as a threat to anybody else.