How do you think about other animals?
There are different ways to think about other animals and our relationship with them. These fall into four main categories: animal rights, animal welfare, conservationist and anthropocentric. There is no correct philosophical perspective, but it is useful to understand the differences between each viewpoint, and the many factors that influence your own.
The anthropocentric position maintains that although animals do matter to a certain extent, human interests always come first. Anthropocentrism is the belief that humanity is the most important thing in the universe. People with anthropocentric beliefs tend to see humanity as separate from nature or as part of nature but at the apex of a hierarchy of species. They may believe that only humans have moral status and that human practical concerns always take priority over other creatures.
The conservationist position argues primarily in favour of sustainable development. Conservationists believe that if people use animals, they must do so in a way that doesn’t spoil the environment for future generations or deplete the earth’s resources.
The animal welfare position maintains that if humans are to use animals, we must do so in a way which does not cause unnecessary suffering. The animal welfare philosophy is fundamentally different from the animal rights philosophy, since it endorses the responsible use of animals to satisfy certain human needs. These can range from companionship and sport, to uses which involve the taking of life, such as for food, clothing and medical research. Animal welfare means ensuring that all animals used by humans have their basic needs fulfilled in terms of food, shelter and health, and that they experience no unnecessary suffering in providing for human needs.
Animal rights activists believe that all animals should have the right to life, happiness and freedom. They maintain that animals should not be used and exploited by humans for any purpose. In the words of Ingrid Newkirk, founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “There is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They’re all mammals.” Michael Fox of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has said, “The life of an ant and the life of my child should be accorded equal respect.”
- Animal Welfare vs Animal Rights, accessed 18 April 2013: http://www.furcommission.com/welfare/animal-welfare-v-animal-rights/
- Compassion in World Farming, accessed 18 April 2013: http://www.ciwf.org.uk/