Animal Rights, Essay Example
The issue of animal rights has been controversial for long centuries, despite the more modern focus upon it. More exactly, and in multiple cultures, it seems to have existed beneath prevailing social views holding that, as animals are essentially the property of mankind, protecting their rights goes only to protecting the value of their use (Sunstein, Nussbaum, 2004, p. 323). The law, it is widely believed, will only look after animal welfare for this reason. As the law ensures rights, then, the concept of animal rights has typically been a debate waged in a strictly ethical context, removed from factors of practicality. Also suppressing any efforts to view animals as entitled to rights are religious views, which greatly influence most cultures. Most of humanity’s history is, in one way or another, linked to humanity acting in the belief that it is elevated beyond all other forms of life. Catholicism, for example, has always held that only man has true rights because only man has a soul, endowed by God. Furthermore, traditional views of animals likely deny them rights simply out of a fear of equating humans with animals; is a monkey has the same, basic rights as a human baby, then a human baby has no greater status than a monkey (Sunstein, Nussbaum, 2004, p. 61). Consequently, as many people have always been drawn to protecting animals by an instinctive desire, animal rights have been simmering as a subject for a very long time.
It is essential to understand, before any arguments supporting or opposing animals rights are presented, that the subject is distinct from animal welfare. The proper treatment of animals is far less controversial than animal rights, because most people object to cruelty practiced on any living thing. Animal rights advocates, on the other hand, hold that human exploitation of animals in any form violates basic rights of living beings, and that one species is not entitled to impose itself over another. While those after animals rights and supporters of animal welfare unite on basic levels, there are important differences, and these enable arguments.
The most commonly made points from opponents to animal rights go to preserving and/or enhancing human life, which it is felt cannot be without treating animals in a way removed from having rights. On the most elementary level, opponents cite the fact that animals have been raised as food sources since recorded history. Not only is meat considered an essential staple of the human diet, testing on animals allows for the development of medicines that cannot be otherwise created (Ritter, Nobis, 2008, p. 9). Those holding to these views by no means endorse cruelty to animals, as a rule. Rather, they take the perceived, more pragmatic view that, religion aside, humans are the most evolved species and are therefore entitled to use whatever means are available to thrive. Added to these arguments is one difficult to address, in that providing for animal rights would require a radical restructuring of all societies. Whole economies are based on animal farming, in which the animals are nothing more than commodities to be raised and slaughtered. Then, there is the matter of scale. Opponents of animal rights often refer to the unfortunate fact that mankind has yet to establish universal rights for its own kind. Entire cultures still exist wherein certain types of people are subjugated, or denied fundamental liberties, just as extremes in international relations, such as wars, frequently ignore human rights. Lastly, and as noted, opponents are typically guided by religious influences. In Western cultures, for instance, both Christian and Jewish faiths point to doctrine as clearly indicating mankind’s complete dominion over all other living things (Ritter, Nobis, 2008, p. 16).
Supporters of animal rights rarely ignore these arguments; on the contrary, they usually agree that the issue is highly complex, and certainly not easily solved. They acknowledge that animals play many roles in human affairs, and that concern over the rights of domestic pets is different than addressing farming or hunting matters. What unites most animal rights supporters, however, is a fundamental skepticism based on traditional ethical and legal customs. It is felt that law is what universally establishes any culture as civilized, and law must operate from a common concept of man as having the facility of reason. Reason, then, obligates mankind to consider other unifying factors in all animal life, and it has been proposed by supporters that pain is as unifying an element in animals as reason is for mankind. If this is pursued, it follows, and in a way reflecting legal thought, that the presence of pain establishes the potentials for higher quality of life (Sunstein, Nussbaum, 2004, p. 196). Then, there is the ethical imperative in place from human ignorance. As humanity lacks a great deal of knowledge regarding classifications of animals, if not whatever “inner” lives they may possess, it is further obligated to err on the side of caution, and accord rights based on the fact that animal life is inherently an evolved state of being. Simply, as animal rights supporters view the issue, we do not know enough to confidently deny other creatures rights, even if we perceive ourselves to be a more evolved form of life.
In my estimation, it is crucial to understand that animal welfare is inextricably connected to animal rights, and we must never lose sight of the fact that acknowledging the former inevitably supports the latter. If, for example, we hold that deliberate cruelty to animals is reprehensible, then we are already asserting that these are living creatures deserving of decent treatment. We are giving them stature because we know that they experience life in many of the ways we do as human beings. We certainly operate on the assumptions that pets develop real affection for us, as we frequently and ironically refer to this as being more desirable than human affection. Then, as noted, we know absolutely that pain and suffering is as keenly felt by animals as it is by us. Human beings may debate endlessly as to the reality of the human soul, but that debate does not include any power to deny the existence of one in another kind of life. This, as I see it, automatically translates to a need to assure animal rights.
Beyond this, I strongly feel that, whatever animals experience as beings, our own concept of ourselves as evolved equates to a responsibility to care for them, and in ways not dependent upon our own needs. In any sphere of human activity, virtue is defined as that action which exists to serve another, and not the self. We have all the evidence we need, that animals feel. That is more than enough to demand that we live up to our status as the most evolved of all creatures, and do whatever we can to provide for them. I do not assert that livestock should be no longer owned, or that animals should be “consulted” in some way before being adopted as pets. I do believe, however, that our own knowledge and ethics must guide us to assure rights universally in place regarding all treatment. In basic terms, humanity is famous for exploiting itself historically, as cultures ignore the rights of other cultures. Humans are empowered to resist. Animals have no such ability. If, then, we commit to treating the defenseless among us with a universal regard for basic welfare, we may eventually learn to act in the same way to our fellow human beings.
It may be argued that my view ignores realities, or relies too much upon a conviction of animal states of being largely subjective. As animals cannot directly communicate to us, we can only guess at how they actually feel, and it could be said that my argument “humanizes” animals to an unreasonable extent. Then, there remains the matter of human superiority, which is not always put forth as an arrogance. The reality is that humans create and build, and conduct interactions on a level far beyond the capabilities of animals. Whether or not anyone or thing concerned has a soul, this is a fact. Therefore, if using animals enhances our lives in any way, we are fully entitled to do this. Animals themselves have no problem in “exploiting” other animals, when their power and greater skills allow for it. The cat, for instance, toys with the mouse before killing it, simply because instinct drives it to do this. To not take advantage of what animals offer is, then, a violation of human instinct. Then, “cruelty” itself is open to interpretation. The dog owner who decides to put their old pet to sleep may be seen as being cruel, and violating the rights of the dog. To entertain animal rights at all, in fact, is a slippery slope, as that basic inability to know what an animal thinks and feels means that we cannot ever properly assign them rights.
To work my way up from the end, however an animal behaves in regard to another animal must not be allowed to guide how we act, simply because we do hold to being the most evolved species. To accord animals protections and rights is by no means the equivalent of seeing them as equal to humans; it is, in fact, only a reinforcement of human superiority. No one challenges that laws are in place to protect children and provide them with rights, because children are unable to assert these for themselves. The same principle applies, in that the party deemed as wisest and most capable is inherently obligated to look after that which is not. It is said that the defining quality of any civilization lies in how it treats its weakest members. If we are to consider ourselves civilized, then, we are ethically responsible for protecting those creature unable to protect themselves.
As to the subjectivity involved in supporting animal rights, no one can reasonably state that this is not an issue. Such complications, however, mark all human affairs as well, yet we do not abandon attempts to move onto a higher plane of action. The pet owner deciding to end the life of the dog is inherently as subject to criticism as the terminally-ill person seeking to end their own life. What matters in both cases is that a regard for the life is present. This example, in fact, works very well with animal rights, because both cases go to determining the essential value of a life. It is inevitable that mankind debates such things, yet it is the fact that debate is necessary which gives meaning to the subjects themselves. If humanity cannot know absolutely to what degree animals feel and think, it is still known that they are relatively highly evolved beings with both feelings and brains. Ultimately, how we choose to respect them defines what we are ourselves, and our own claim to being the most evolved of all.
Ritter, Christie, & Nobis, Nathan. (2008). Animal Rights. Edina: ABDO Publishing.
Sunstein, Cass R., & Nussbaum, Martha C. (2004). Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. New York: Oxford University Press.
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