Animal ethics is a branch of ethics which examines human-animal relationships, the moral consideration of animals and how nonhuman animals ought to be treated. The subject matter includes animal rights, animal welfare, animal law, speciesism, animal cognition, wildlife conservation, wild animal suffering, the moral status of nonhuman animals, the concept of nonhuman personhood, human exceptionalism, the history of animal use, and theories of justice. Several different theoretical approaches have been proposed to examine this field, in accordance with the different theories currently defended in moral and political philosophy. There is no theory which is completely accepted due to the differing understandings of what is meant by the term ethics; however, there are theories that are more widely accepted by society such as animal rights and utilitarianism.
The history of the regulation of animal research was a fundamental step towards the development of animal ethics, as this was when the term "animal ethics" first emerged. In the beginning, the term "animal ethics" was associated solely with cruelty, only changing in the late 20th-century, when it was deemed inadequate in modern society. The United States Animal Welfare Act of 1966, attempted to tackle the problems of animal research; however, their effects were considered futile. Many did not support this act as it communicated that if there was human benefit resulting from the tests, the suffering of the animals was justifiable. It was not the establishment of the animal rights movement, that people started supporting and voicing their opinions in public. Animal ethics was expressed through this movement and led to big changes to the power and meaning of animal ethics.
See also: Animal rights movement
The first animal rights laws were first introduced between 1635–1780. In 1635, Ireland was the first country to pass animal protection legislation, "An Act against Plowing by the Tayle, and pulling the Wooll off living Sheep". In 1641, Massachusetts colony's called Body of Liberties that includes regulation against any "Tirranny or Crueltie" towards animals. In 1687, Japan reintroduced a ban on eating meat and killing animals. In 1789, philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, that an animal's capacity to suffer—not their intelligence—meant that they should be granted rights: "The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?"
Between 1822–1892, more laws were passed to protect animals. In 1822, the British Parliament passed the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act. In 1824, the first animal rights society was founded in England by Richard Martin, Arthur Broome, Lewis Gompertz and William Wilberforce, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which later became the RSPCA. The same year, Gompertz published Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes, one of the first books advocating for what will be more than a century later known as veganism. In 1835, Britain passed the first Cruelty to Animals Act. In 1866, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded by New Yorker Henry Bergh. In 1875, Frances Power Cobbe established the National Anti-Vivisection Society in Britain. In 1892, English social reformer Henry Stephens Salt published Animal Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress.
In 1970, Richard D. Ryder coined speciesism, a term for discrimination against animals based on their species-membership. This term was popularized by the philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer in his 1975 book Animal Liberation. The late 1970s marked the beginnings of the animal rights movement, which portrayed the belief that animals must be recognised as sentient beings and protected from unessential harm. Since the 18th century, many groups have been organised supporting different aspects of animal rights and carrying out their support in differing ways. On one hand, "The Animal Liberation Front" is an English group that took the law into their own hands, orchestrating the Penn break-in, while a group such as "People for Ethical Treatment of Animals" founded in the US, although supporting the same goals, aim for legislative gains.
Main article: Animal testing
Animal testing for biomedical research dates to the writings of the ancient Greeks. It is understood that physician-scientists such as Aristotle, and Erasistratus carried out experiments on living animals. After them, there was also Galen, who was Greek but resided in Rome, carrying out experiments on living animals to improve on the knowledge of anatomy, physiology, pathology, and pharmacology. Animal testing since has evolved considerably and is still being carried out in the modern-day, with millions of experimental animals being used around the world. However, during recent years it has come under severe criticism by the public and animal activist groups. Those against, argue that the benefits that animal testing provides for humanity are not justifiable for the suffering of those animals. Those for, argue that animal testing is fundamental for the advancement of biomedical knowledge.
Drug testing on animals blew up in the 20th century. In 1937, a US pharmaceutical company created an infamous drug called "Elixir Sulfanilamide". This drug had a chemical called DEG in it which is toxic to humans, but at the time was not known to be harmful to humans. Without precautions, the drug was released to the public and was responsible for a mass poisoning. The DEG ended up killing over a hundred people, causing uproar among civilisation. Thus, in 1938 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. This ensured the testing of drugs on animals before marketing of the product, to confirm that it would have no harmful implications on humans.
However, since the regulations have been put in place, animal testing deaths have increased. More than one million animals are killed from testing every year in the US. In addition, the deaths of these animals are considered sickening; from inhaling toxic gas, having skin burned off, getting holes drilled into their skulls.
Main article: The Three Rs (animals)
The 3 Rs were first introduced in a 1959 book called "The Principles of Humane Experimental technique" by zoologist W. M. S. Russell, and microbiologist R. L. Burch. The 3 Rs stand for Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement and are the guiding principles for the ethical treatment of animals used for testing and experimentation:
The Three Rs principles are now widely accepted by many countries and are used in any practises that involve the experimentation of animals.
See also: Animal testing regulations
There is a wide range of ethical assessments regarding animals used in research. There are general opinions that animals do have a moral status and how they are treated should be subjected to ethical consideration; some of the positions include:
The Norwegian National Committee for Research Ethics in Science and Technology (NENT) have a set of ethical guidelines for the use of animals in research:
Ethical thinking has influenced the way society perceives animal ethics in at least three ways. Firstly, the original rise of animal ethics and how animals should be treated. Secondly, the evolution of animal ethics as people started to realise that this ideology was not as simple as was first proposed. The third way, is through the challenges humans face contemplating these ethics; consistency of morals, and the justification of some cases.
Consequentialism is a collection of ethical theories which judge the rightness or wrongness of an action on its consequences; if the actions brings more benefit than harm, it is good, if it brings more harm than benefit, it is bad. The most well-known type of consequentialism theory is utilitarianism.
The publication of Peter Singer's book Animal Liberation, in 1975, gathered sizeable traction and provided him with a platform to speak his mind on the issues of animal rights. Due to the attention Singer received, his views were the most accessible, and therefore best known by the public. He supported the theory of utilitarianism, which is still a controversial but highly regarded foundation for animal research. The theory of utilitarianism states that "an action is right if and only if it produces a better balance of benefits and harms than available alternative actions", thus, this theory determines whether or not something is right by weighing the pleasure against the suffering of the result. It is not concerned with the process, only the weight of the consequence against the process, and while the consequentialism theory suggests if an action is bad or good, utilitarianism only focuses on the benefit of the outcome. While this may be able to be applied to some animal research and raising for food, there are many flaws that have been exposed in this theory. Singer made his decision to support utilitarianism on the basis of sentience, selecting that aspect as the differential factor between human and animals; the ability of self-consciousness, autonomy and to act morally. This ended up being called "The argument from marginal cases". However, another argument was made that not all beings fall under this category, as some people have a disability, which limits the way they can function as someone without, for example, if someone is in a persistent vegetative state they have no awareness of themselves or their surroundings. Thus, from this ideology, it would be ok to carry out these same tests on these humans as we do the animals. In addition, other limitations of applying utilitarianism to animal research is that you cannot measure the pain and benefit of the tests and compare them accurately. Therefore, it is estimated that they are being compared when deducing whether a test is morally right or wrong.
Deontology is a theory that evaluates moral actions based only on doing one's duty, not on the consequences of the actions. This means that if it is your duty to carry out a task, it is morally right regardless of the consequences, and if you fail to do your duty, you are morally wrong. There are many types of deontological theories, however, the one most commonly recognised is often associated with Immanuel Kant. This ethical theory can be implemented from conflicting sides, for example, a researcher may think it is their duty to make an animal suffer to find a cure for a disease that is affecting millions of humans, which according to deontology is morally correct. On the other hand, an animal activist might think that saving these animals being tested on is their duty, creating a contradiction in this idea. Furthermore, another conflicting nature of this theory is when you must choose between two imposing moral duties, such as deciding if you should lie about where an escaped chicken went, or if you should tell the truth and send the chicken to its death. Lying is an immoral duty to carry out, however, so is sending a chicken to its death.
A highlighted flaw in Kant's theory is that it was not applicable to non-human animals, only specifically to humans. This theory opposes utilitarianism in the sense that instead of concerning itself with the consequence, it focuses on the duty. However, both are fundamental theories that contribute to animal ethics.
Virtue ethics does not pinpoint on either the consequences or duty of the action, but from the act of behaving like a virtuous person. Thus, asking if such actions would stem from a virtuous person or someone with a vicious nature. If it would stem from someone virtuous, it is said that it is morally right, and if from a vicious person, immoral behaviour. A virtuous person is said to hold qualities such as respect, tolerance, justice and equality. One advantage that this theory has over the others, is that it takes into account human emotions, affecting the moral decision, which was absent in the previous two. However, a flaw is that people's opinions of a virtuous person are very subjective, and thus, can drastically affect the person's moral compass. With this underlying issue, this ethical theory cannot be applied to all cases.
Differing conceptions of the treatment of and duties towards animals, particularly those living in the wild, within animal ethics and environmental ethics have been a source of conflict between the two ethical positions; some philosophers have made a case that the two positions are incompatible, while others have argued that such disagreements can be overcome.