Portal:Animal rights

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Animal rights

Animal rights, also known as animal liberation, is the idea that the most basic interests of non-human animals have to be afforded the same moral and legal consideration as the similar interests of human beings, and that to do otherwise is a prejudice known as speciesism.

This painting of the trial of Bill Burns hangs in the headquarters of the RSPCA in London.

Most writers trace the beginning of the modern concept of animal rights to 19th-century England, and the 1822 Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act, introduced by Richard Martin MP. Anti-cruelty legislation had been passed before this: for example in 1635 in Ireland, in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1641, and in England during the rule of Oliver Cromwell, though it was overturned when Charles II became king in 1660. But prosecutions in England had been pursued from the perspective of animals qua property, so that damage to a non-human animal constituted damage to the human owner. The 1822 Act changed this. Martin himself brought the first prosecution when he had Bill Burns, a fruit seller, convicted for beating a donkey, and brought the donkey to court to demonstrate the injuries.

From 1824, starting with the English SPCA, animal protection and anti-vivisection groups sprang up across Europe, Scandinavia, Australia and North America, and between then and the end of the century, several treatises were published that explicitly developed the idea of animal rights. In the 1960s, a group of intellectuals centered around the University of Oxford – now known as the Oxford Group – began discussing ideas that became the foundation of the modern movement. In parallel to the academic work, direct action groups began to form, starting with the English Hunt Saboteurs Association, founded by a journalist in 1963. In 1964, Ruth Harrison published Animal Machines, a critique of factory farming. A year later, Brigid Brophy wrote an influential article, "The Rights of Animals," for The Sunday Times, and in 1970, inspired by Brophy, the Oxford clinical psychologist Richard D. Ryder coined the term "speciesism."

In 1971, three Oxford philosophers – Roslind and Stanley Godlovitch, and John Harris – edited a collection of essays, Animals, Men and Morals: An Inquiry into the Maltreatment of Non-humans. This, in turn, inspired the Australian philosopher, Peter Singer, to become involved, and in 1975 he published the now-canonical work, Animal Liberation, drawing an explicit comparison between the liberation of women and animals. In 1983, American philosopher, Tom Regan, who had also come into contact with the Oxford Group, published The Case for Animal Rights, laying the groundwork for a rights-based theory.

Animal rights advocates today approach the issue from different philosophical positions, some abolitionist and some gradualist, but generally share the view that animals should be viewed as non-human persons, and should not be used as food, clothing, research subjects, or entertainment.

Selected article

Peter Singer

Animal Liberation is a 1975 book by Australian philosopher Peter Singer. The book is widely considered by the animal rights movement to be the founding philosophical statement of its ideas. Singer himself rejected the use of the theoretical framework of rights for both human and nonhuman animals: he argued that the interests of animals should be considered because of their ability to suffer. He popularized the term "speciesism" in the book, which was originally coined by Richard D. Ryder, to describe the assignment of value to an individual based on species membership alone.

Singer holds that the interests of all beings capable of suffering are worthy of equal consideration, and argues that giving less consideration to beings based on their species is no more justified than discrimination based on skin colour. Read more...

Selected picture

Sacred Cow Animal Rights Memorial by Lado Goudjabidze in Sherborn, Massachusetts. The memorial is dedicated to Emily the Cow, who escaped from a slaughterhouse in 1995, and was helped by an ad hoc underground railroad until she found a home at Sherborn's Peace Abbey, where she lived until her death in 2004.

Selected biography

Gary Francione with Mollie and Katie

Gary Lawrence Francione (born 1954) is the Distinguished Professor of Law and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law & Philosophy at Rutgers School of Law-Newark. He is known for his work on animal rights theory, and was the first academic to teach it in an American law school. His work has focused on three issues: the property status of animals, the differences between animal rights and animal welfare, and a theory of animal rights based on sentience alone, rather than on any particular characteristics.

Francione is a pioneer of the abolitionist theory of animal rights, arguing that improving welfare is theoretically and practically unsound, serving only to prolong the status of animals as property by making the public feel comfortable about using them. He argues that non-human animals require only one right, the right not to be regarded as property, and that the moral baseline of the abolitionist approach is veganism, the rejection of the use of all animal products. Read more...

Did you know?

DYK Question Mark
  • ... that Lizzy Lind af Hageby, a Swedish anti-vivisectionist, broke a record in England in 1913 when she spoke 210,000 words during a libel trial and asked 20,000 questions?
  • ... that in January 2010 a team of scientists suggested that dolphins are second in intelligence only to human beings, and should be regarded as non-human persons?
  • ... that in 2011 People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (unsuccessfully) sued SeaWorld over its captivity of whales, the first time an attempt was made to use the United States Thirteenth Amendment to protect non-human rights?

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