Me, Learning Ethics: Animal Rights

As far as I know, animal rights were not a popular topic until the middle of the last century. Nowadays, it seems like everyone is a vegetarian or vegan (realistically the percentages are less than 10% for most countries–it varies, and it depends on the source of the statistics). What is obvious to me is that there is a definite rise in that kind of dieting, and some go beyond to make it a lifestyle.

Well, if intelligence, moral capacity, physical strength and other characteristics of superiority were ignored, then there is no reason for animals not to have the same rights and treatment as humans. Nonhuman creatures are capable of mental and physical feelings. Many will show care for their offspring and extended family. The fact that animals are capable of this proves that they have interests and that they are not necessarily mindless creatures (Rachels and Rachels, 2017, p. 347). For a large portion of history, many slaves were considered equal to animals, even if they were human. Now we know that, overall, humans are equal. The textbook mentions how it is possible to place animals, infants, and mentally handicapped humans in the same category just based on the level of ignorance, yet many of us would not hurt a newborn or an invalid (Rachels and Rachels, 2017, p. 349).

Butchering animals for their body parts, using them in laboratory testing, and keeping them around for various types of entertainment can be considered either immoral or moral. Since the subject of animal rights has also been grouped with Utilitarianism, then I believe I can judge it by Utilitarian values. Under the theory of Utilitarianism, all animals deserve to search for personal happiness—the same as any human (Rachels and Rachels, 2017, p. 363). Also, the principle of equality could result in viewing animals as equal to human beings (Rachels and Rachels, 2017, p. 345). Anyone who considers causing suffering immoral, when there may be other less painful options, would see animal rights as moral. The amount of rights is debatable, but there should be guidelines (Rachels and Rachels, 2017, p. 365). It seems that all the other ethics theories we have learned about would classify animals as inferior, or they would not perceive it as immoral in using animals for our personal wants and needs.

I think that every other option should be considered before using animals. If it is not possible to find another source of food with the same nutritional effects, enjoyable entertainment, or improved research, then I would not see it as immoral to use animals. Humans are still superior to animals (Rachels and Rachels, 2017, p. 369) Our ability to have morality, creativity, organization, and intellectual pursuits allows us to achieve more than they are capable of (Rachels and Rachels, 2017, p. 370). It would be immoral to not wonder about their wellbeing—at least somewhat or occasionally (Rachels and Rachels, 2017, p. 369).

I am an omnivore, and I don’t actually believe a vegan diet is necessarily the most preferable. I would say that focusing on vegetables and fruits is a great idea, and animal products should definitely be limited. It is not just about physical health but about ethical issues related to the earth and animals–and even spiritual pursuits. I’ve danced with the various forms of vegetarianism, over the last 10 years, and I have realized that I can’t leave out meat. I certainly don’t need it daily, but I function best with a small amount of flesh and absolutely no dairy. I guess every body is different, and the levels of empathy, knowledge of biology, anatomy, and physiology, and experience will affect that choice. I would probably consume human flesh if I felt the need, but I imagine it is inappropriate to admit to that, isn’t it?

Even though I mostly disagree with animal testing, I am that one person who feels the need to collect leather in any form. I think it may be some kind of obsession. Also, I like suede, jewelry made of bone, feathers, and decor made of animal hair. I have two fur jackets, various leather gloves and jackets, and I don’t know how many pairs of leather cowboy boots I happen to have. On some level it bothers me, but on another, it pleases me. This is just one example of my many contradictions.

~Here are the replies I received to my post~

Fellow Student #1:

Jacqueline, your very first paragraph was spot on. It really can be viewed in either light, pro or anti animal rights. That is the problem with this theory- it is broad. It leaves these gaps open that requires it’s followers to fill it in and leaving room for error, because everything is relative.

Me:

I would say I’m moderate on animal rights. True veganism is very difficult. Also, most people consume all forms of animal products and byproducts on a daily basis. We are omnivores, after all. Honestly, I feel like I violate my own values when it comes to this subject.

Professor:

Jacquline and Class,

Insightful commentary and text integration, Jacquline.

Class, Singer and Machan’s arguments regarding animal rights are premised on different ethical assumptions. How would you describe these?

Fellow Student #2:

Jacqueline,

I agree we should try our hardest to not use animals for anything but just enjoy their presence. Oh what different world would we have! We as a world would be healthier and get sick less. Most animals could be our pets and we could enjoy them roaming free in the fields. I believe this way of living would possibly bring greater respect to humanity.

Me:

I guess I like the idea of the Garden of Eden, since that’s what took place in the story–a couple of naive, but nice, people roaming about playing with animals. I have come to believe that being 100% vegan is impossible, though. I just settled for a mostly vegetarian diet–without dairy (I have my reasons). I do feel guilty when I walk past the cows or drive by the feedlots.

Fellow Student #3:

Jacquline,

Great post! I agree with you with if we can find alternatives instead of harming animals then we as society should aim towards those alternatives. There are many vegans that have lived a healthier life style and do not of course eat any animals! What do you think about what Rachels description about that humans are superior to animals?

Me:

Thank you. Well, after being forced to study biology in high school and college, I have come to the conclusion that humans are superior to animals–based on mental abilities. Sure, we can be killed by bears, lions, and sharks, but we are also capable of finding clever ways to dominate. I agree with his reasoning on that matter. Of course, that means humans are also capable of finding ways to be less beastly and cruel, while still being dominant.

Fellow Student #4:

I appreciated your example of slaves being compared at the same level as an animal and it was absolutely disgraceful how they were treated. Do you take any steps to help against testing on animals?

Me:

I’m not completely against animal testing, but I do think most testing is unnecessary. This subject was discussed in another of my classes, a few weeks ago, and it seems that finding volunteers is the best route. Some volunteers do it for monetary compensation, others believe in the science of the experience, and some people have a sick family member or friend that need a cure. I consider most types of cosmetics to be unnecessary, so I would not care to see them tested. If a lipstick has to be tested on an animal because it may not be safe for humans, then is it really that beneficial, overall? It does get me thinking.

Fellow Student #5:

Hi Jacquline,

Thanks for the post. I agree with your perspective on the topic. I do also believe that it is important to consider animals interests just as we should be impartial to other people or societies. The Right Thing To Do slightly touches on the subject but one reason I think some animal testing is not morally wrong is because of the economic impact it has. For example if we were to eradicate animal testing for goods alone I think the there would be a significant decrease in economic growth because much of the goods we consume are in fact tested on animals such as hygienic products not to mention the decrease in medical advances. If medical companies were no longer able to test on animals the process for finding useful medicines would slow down greatly, potentially resulting in suffering humans. Would you agree?

Me:

I could see where it would cause problems related to commerce. Personally, I believe in simplicity and prevention when it comes to subjects like hygiene/beauty and physical health; therefore, a reduction in experimentation wouldn’t bother me. I don’t understand why we need so many variations of shampoo formulas, to be honest. It’s more difficult to argue against the idea of medical advances. Though, I do believe certain people deserve their own suffering if they aren’t willing to care for their health, but I do give more importance to humans than animals.

Fellow Student #5:

Thanks for the reply. I’m like you in that I also believe in simplicity when it comes to hygiene/beauty and physical health. You make a very good point we really don’t need that many products but unfortunately I think we live in a society where people idolize incomparable appearances and value glamour over the condition of animals.

Fellow Student #6:

Hi Jacquline, I love animals and I think it is terrible when people abuse their pets, but I still eat meat. I think it is interesting to see where most people draw the line because I think a lot of people are similar to me in that they adore their pets but it is okay to eat meat such as hamburger and pork. Others may think it is not even okay to own pets and others simply do not care. I think it is okay to eat the animals we do because we need that source of nutrition, I do not think we are above them however. I think your post brings up a lot of great points!

Me:

Thank you. I still consume animal products, as well, I just try to limit the amount to what is necessary for my health. For example, I tend to eat 1-2 eggs per day, no dairy, and I have flesh 1-3 times per week. That’s how I try to balance my needs with my values. I know that is eccentric, to a certain level, compared to other human diets. I am bothered by the idea that someone would eat my dog in rural China, but I am aware that I could be eating the soul of a person’s relative. This subject is kind of awkward.

Fellow Student #7:

Jacquline,

What an insight post. I know animal rights are a touchy subject for many, considering some believe that an animal’s voice does not matter while others believe that animals should have the same rights as us. I believe in the movement that we should not test on animals nor keep them in captivity for many of the reasons you mentioned. I think there are limitations in regards to eating meat. As you mentioned, every option should be weighed in before using animals considering there are plenty of companies that do not do animal testing. Now it would be extremely hard to make society change their everyday lives to not eat meat and buy cruelty free products, but I think everyone should at least give it a try. Great post!

References

Rachels, James, and Stuart Rachels. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. 8th Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2017. Print.

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One thought on “Me, Learning Ethics: Animal Rights

  1. Humans actually are not biologically or anatomically omnivorous at all; There isn’t one thing in any animal product we need that can’t be gotten sufficiently from plants and there’s nothing predatorial about our anatomy. The fact that we don’t need animal products to survive makes it unethical to use them (not to mention cholesterol and saturated animal fat have no place in our body)

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