Animals' Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress

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Animals' Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress (1894) is a book by Henry Stephens Salt, the English social reformer. It is widely considered to be the first explicit treatment of the concept of animal rights.[1]

In the book, Salt argues against the idea of speciesism, though the term was not coined for another 76 years:

[T]he notion of the life of an animal having 'no moral purpose,' belongs to a class of ideas which cannot possibly be accepted by the advanced humanitarian thought of the present day – it is a purely arbitrary assumption, at variance with our best instincts, at variance with our best science, and absolutely fatal (if the subject be clearly thought out) to any full realization of animals' rights. If we are ever going to do justice to the lower races, we must get rid of the antiquated notion of a 'great gulf' fixed between them and mankind, and must recognize the common bond of humanity that unites all living beings in one universal brotherhood."[2]

The book also argues against vivisection and for vegetarianism.[3]

Reception[edit]

James H. Hyslop reviewed the book contemporaneously for the International Journal of Ethics was very critical of the book, arguing that it fails to present a theoretical justification for the equal rights it presumes between humans and animals: "No fundamental position, philosophical or theological, is taken as ground for such rights, and hence we have only an exposure of certain logical weaknesses in the defence of existing practices towards animal life."[3]

Hyslop also argues that Salt conflates disparate ethical questions:

the book confuses three distinct problems which ought to be kept distinct from one another. (1) The abstract question of animal rights of any kind; (2) The question of their treatment as sensible beings, whether we accord them the same rights as man or not; and (3) The question of vegetarianism. The last question virtually assumes that they have equal rights with man. On the other hand, some can defend animal rights of a certain kind without including a prohibition of animal food. Then, independently of all questions of rights, others may insist on human conduct towards animals upon the grounds of man's duty to moral law in general.[3]

In 1895, The William and Mary Quarterly said of the work: "Mr. Salt is undoubtedly ahead of his age by many years."[4]

A new edition of the book was published in 1980 with a preface by the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, who is well known for his work on the ethics of treatment towards animals (specifically in the book Animal Liberation). The 1980 reissue prompted a review from Stephen Clark who praised Salt's book with some provisos. He states that Salt's attempt to blame the treatment of non-human animals on the theological doctrine of man having "dominion" over the natural world was mistaken.[5]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Taylor, Angus. Animals and Ethics. Broadview Press, 2003, p. 61.
  2. ^ Salt, Henry Stephens. Animals' Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress. Macmillan & Co., 1894.
  3. ^ a b c Hyslop, James H. (July 1895). "Animals' Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress by Henry S. Salt". International Journal of Ethics 5 (4): 532–533. doi:10.1086/205375. 
  4. ^ "Animals' Rights, Considered in Relation to Social Progress, etc by Henry S. Salt". The William and Mary Quarterly 3 (3). January 1895. 
  5. ^ Stephen Clark (January 1983). "Animals' Rights, Considered in Relation to Social Progress by Henry S. Salt". The Philosophical Quarterly 33 (130): 98–100. doi:10.2307/2219213.