‘An appraisal of the philosophical positions of Animal Welfare and Animal Rights: Making the necessary transition to Veganism- Philosophy of Food’
Philosophical Position of Animal Welfare
Since time immemorial, humanity has been evidently exploiting animals for their specific selfish gains and motives and in order to maintain their privileged lifestyles. Animals have been considered as commodities either for consumption or for a sort of trade yielding specific monetary privileges. Few have been the instances, when the perspectives of animals being used/sold/consumed for human desires and satisfactions, have been taken into consideration. One specific philosophical position which considers perspectives of animals and specifically emphasizes upon their welfare, is that of the Animal Welfare position, which considers the position that “Animals can be used, but one must treat them humanely.”
This particular philosophical position, was introduced in the nineteenth century, as an essential component of the progressive movements which was in favor of women rights and in complete opposition of human slavery. Before this view was introduced, animals were considered as necessarily inferior to humans, since they lacked certain spiritual understandings and were considered insentient. Therefore, on the basis of lacking sentience, they were completely ousted from the moral communities and solely on that basis, exploited for centuries. But, gradually a new perspective entered one’s understanding, which focused on the view that although, animals lack sentience and are not considered humans, yet they can be considered semi-humans and are therefore considered partial members of the moral community. Therefore, considering the given position, the animal welfare position considers that animals can be used by humans for their specific purposes and motives, since they are spiritually and naturally inferior to humans, but there needs to be a limitation on one’s treatment of them. Therefore, it does not necessarily reduce the position of significantly liberating animals from getting used or being ill-treated and exploited by humans, but it just assigns a sympathetic position of treating animals in a humane manner, since they necessarily need that much of a nice treatment. Knowledge in agriculture helps understand this position more broadly.
This particular view, does not completely reject the Cartesian view of considering animals as spiritually and naturally inferior to us but they do deserve a much more humane treatment. Now, the welfarist position also specifies that our treatment of animals should be limited in the sense that, their specific capabilities and conditions should be kept in mind whilst using them and there should not arise any instance of ‘over-using’ or exploiting them. It addresses the fact of enduring suffering to some animals, in a straightforward manner, but just as much is necessary and no unnecessary usage should be entertained. Therefore, in this context, a particular question arises that what is the necessary suffering for an animal and what is unnecessary suffering?
Jeremy Bentham presented his unique perspective on the animal welfarist front by stating that animals share some characteristics and the absence of other characteristics, which distinguish them from humans, does not speculate in any way of using them. He states by giving an instance: “A full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But, suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer?” Therefore, by considering the fact that if under any circumstance, if an animal is sentient, then shouldn’t it become essentially evident to acknowledge the animal’s interest and disinterest in suffering? Should a lack of morality and spirituality in the primitive minds of animals justify them being led to perish substantially? Bentham addresses this skepticism by stating that since animals lack a sense of self-awareness and cannot anticipate their future, they can be either consumed or killed for satiating human desires, but at the same time, they should be killed and consumed only if it is inevitably necessary to do so and there is no other alternative to prevent one from doing so. Considering animals’ perspectives on their sufferings, Bentham iterates that, animals do not care about whether they are endured of suffering or used by humans, the only concern in this context, is that of how we use them. Therefore, it is not important if we use them or not, but if we choose to use them, then their treatment is quite important and observance of animal welfare therefore becomes necessary.
There is another explanation which legitimizes the welfarist tradition, which is that of annotating religious perspectives of dominion not meaning domination, but a rather regulation of the concerned entities. After considering the various fair and just opinions this position introduced into society, many nations began considering the animal welfare perspective quite seriously and introduced anti cruelty laws in their administration, thereby propagating a view of animals being worthy of legal protection. Therefore, these new laws supporting the welfarist front, propose the view that one should use animals by considering both the animal’s as well as human’s perspective on it and attempt to cause suffering to the former only if it is justifiable. Therefore, this philosophical position does not question upon why does one use animals, it simply questions that how are they to be used/treated. It fails to distinguish specifically that what does ‘necessary suffering’ truly constitute.
Philosophical position of Animal Rights as opposed to Animal Welfare
A thorough and detailed analysis of the philosophical position of the Welfarist tradition, yielded to several philosophers to propose a contrasting view of Animal Rights. This particular position as opposed to the Welfarist front, focused on the question of why do we endure suffering on animals, instead of addressing the way we treat them. Therefore, both these positions are sufficiently distinct in terms of their establishment of what is more important in the perspective of animals, their treatment or the very fact that they are endured of suffering by human desires. If one considers the key foundational belief of the Welfarists, then it emphasizes upon animals’ interest upon being treated well and not being unnecessarily dragged into the realm of suffering, rather than being concerned about their existence.
Therefore, then a major skepticism troubles the mind, that of does a being oriented towards the philosophical position of Animal Rights not take any interest in living or existing? But, whilst repetitively confronting this skepticism, one has to keep in mind that the skepticism cannot be considered with a measure of certainty, since it has its own limitations and contradictions. As opposed to the foundational belief of the Welfarist tradition, this position argues that “a sentient being is the one with an interest in living.” It further presents the view that animals, though being non-humans, possess self-awareness and also possess the capability to understand the distinctions between oneself and other. But, then the statement itself becomes self-contradictory! Since, it does not clearly imply by any point that self-awareness is an accurate representation of the will of living/existing. Most animals being exploited are subjectively aware of their conditions, many can even anticipate threat/danger by merely observing harmful weapon instruments around them such as knives, scissors, blades and other sharpened objects, thereby creating an arousal in their sensory organs. They immediately enter a state of alertness and vigilance and engage in each movement with maximum alertness. Yet, all these reflexes do not justify their will to exist in continuation.
But, both these philosophical positions do help us make certain conclusions such as that there is no correlation between cognitive abilities such as thinking, perceiving, problem-solving, decision-making, judgements and creativity with that of animal use, since in the instance of mentally challenged humans, despite of not possessing cognitive abilities, they are considered humans and possessing morality. Therefore, it also might be inferred that lesser the cognitive abilities, more or rather equal the moral obligations and not less, in fact.
Francione, Gary L. & Garner, Robert (2010). _The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation? Columbia University Press.
Francione, Gary L. (2009). Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation. New York: Columbia University Press.