A Historical Difference in Animal Rights Essay

A Historical Difference in Animal Rights

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Supporters of Science and theology based evolution agree that animals came into existence around the same time as humankind.  Through history there has been a variance of beliefs in Animal Rights; therefore, affecting Animal Law, which still today has not succeeded.  Animal Rights could be defined as the moral or legal entitlements attributed to nonhuman animals, usually because of the complexity of their cognitive, emotional, and social lives or their capacity to experience physical or emotional pain or pleasure. Historically, different views of the scope of animal rights have reflected philosophical and legal developments, scientific conceptions of animal and human nature, and religious and ethical conceptions of the proper relationship between animals and human beings.

Philosophy of how to treat and regard all animals has been pondered since Greek philosophy.  During the first traces of Animal Law creation, slavery and the debate of legal “things” coexisted.  This law began in Europe but soon spread to the United States.  Modern Animal rights and Philosophy is a reflection of what philosophers and lawmakers perceived in the past.  As the Animal Rights movement began to spread individuals from legal, medical, scientific, and theology fields began to support Animal Rights through research and promotion.

History of Animal Rights Philosophy

            The proper treatment of animals is a very old question in the West. Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers debated the place of animals in human morality. According to historical information on the topic provided by Wikipedia, the Pythagoreans, existing from the 6th through the 4th Century B.C., and the Neo-Platonist, existing from the  3rd through the 6th century A.D., urged respect for animals’ interests, due to the belief  of the migration of souls between human and animal bodies. For example:

Apparent in classical Greek literature from about 2500 B.P., the early Pythagorean and Orphic schools of Greek philosophy believed in the Eastern concept of reincarnation-the idea that the soul or spirit is eternally reborn after death in different bodies, including those of animals.  Opposition to animal sacrifice and vegetarian advocacy continued….until it was counterbalanced by Aristotle. (Serpell, 1998)

In his biological writings, Aristotle repeatedly suggested that animals lived for their own sake, but his claim in the Politic that nature made all animals for the sake of humans was unfortunately destined to become his most influential statement on the subject.

Aristotle, and later the Stoics, believed the world was populated by an infinity of beings arranged hierarchically according to their complexity and perfection, from the barely living to the merely sensing, the rational, and the spiritual. This hierarchy came to be known as the Great Chain of Being. In the Great Chain of Being, all forms of life were represented as existing for the sake of those forms higher in the chain.  Humans, due of their rationality, occupied the highest position. The Great Chain of Being became one of the most persistent and powerful ways of conceiving the universe, dominating scientific, philosophical, and religious thinking until the middle of the 19th century.

The Stoics, insisting on the irrationality of all nonhuman animals, regarded them as slaves and accordingly treated them as contemptible and beneath notice. Aggressively advocated by St. Augustine, these Stoic ideas became embedded in Christian theology according to Wikipedia. They were absorbed into Roman law and taken up by the legal interpreters of the law in Europe in the 11th century, and eventually pressed into English, and much later, American law. Meanwhile, arguments that urged respect for the interests of animals nearly disappeared, and animal welfare became an after thought of philosophical inquiry and legal regulation until the 20th century.
Previous to the implementation of legal ethics, according to All Creation, there were differing views established by religious sects.  For example, there is an ancient Chinese verse that states, “For hundreds of thousands of years the stew in the pot has brewed hatred and resentment … If you wish to know why there are disasters … listen to the piteous cries from the slaughter house at midnight” (All-Creation, 2007).  According to All Creation many Christians have also interpreted different translations of the bible to state animals are below mankind on this earth, but have established no proof.

The First Creation of Animals Law

In the 3rd or 4th century AD, the Roman jurist Hermogenianus wrote “All law was established for men’s sake” (Sacred Text, 2007). Repeating the phrase, P.A. Fitzgerald, “The law is made for men and allows no fellowship or bonds of obligation between them and the lower animals” (Wikepedia, 2007). The most important consequence of this view is that animals have long been categorized as legal “things,” not as legal persons. Legal persons have rights of their own, legal “things” do not; they exist in the law solely as the objects of the rights of legal persons. This status, however, often affords animals the indirect protection of laws intended to preserve social morality or the rights of animal owners, such as criminal anticruelty statutes or civil statutes that permit owners to obtain compensation for damages inflicted on their animals.

As established by Animal Law, this sort of law presently defines the field of “animal law,” which is much broader than animal rights because it encompasses all law that addresses the interests of nonhuman animals, or more commonly, the interests of the people who own them.

A legal “thing” can become a legal person; this happened whenever human slaves were freed. The former legal “thing” then possesses his or her own legal rights and remedies. Comparisons have frequently been drawn between the legal status of animals and that of human slaves.  In the late 1800’s human rights crusader Henry Bergh found a correlation between abused and neglected children and animals as described below:

In 1873, Bergh became involved in helping a foster child…who was underfed, locked in a closet, or chained to a bed.  The existing child protection laws were weak…He enlisted an attorney … who got her released.  (The Child) recovered from her ordeal and went on to live a full life.  Bergh saw the connection between human and animal suffering.  The Child is an animal. If there is no justice for it as a human being, it shall at least have the rights of a cur in the streets. It shall not be abused. (Motavalli, 1995)

Much like the afore mentioned example, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, humanitarian reformers in Britain and the United States campaigned on behalf of the weak and defenseless, protesting against child labor, debtor’s prisons, abusive punishment in public schools, and, inevitably, the cruel treatment of animals. According to Bartelby, in 1800 the most renowned abolitionist of the period, William Wilberforce of Britain, supported a bill to abolish bull and bear baiting, which was defeated in the House of Commons. In 1809 Baron Erskine, who had long been troubled by cruelty to animals, introduced a bill to prohibit cruelty to all domestic animals. Erskine declared that the bill was intended to “consecrate, perhaps, in all nations, and in all ages, that just and eternal principle which binds the whole living world in one harmonious chain, under the dominion of enlightened man, the lord and governor of all”(Bartelby, 2007).

Although the bill passed the House of Lords, it failed in the House of Commons. Then, in 1821, a bill was introduced in the House of Commons, sponsored by Wilberforce. The version enacted in 1822 made it a crime to treat a handful of domesticated animals cruelly or to inflict unnecessary suffering upon them. The Act did not protect the general welfare of even these animals, much less give them legal rights, and the worst punishment available for any breach was a modest fine. Similar statutes were enacted in the United States, where there now exists a patchwork of anticruelty and animal-welfare laws. Most states today make at least some abuses of animals a felony. Laws such as the federal Animal Welfare Act, enacted in 1966, regulate what humans may do to animals in agriculture, biomedical research, entertainment, and other areas. But neither Martin’s Act nor any subsequent animal-protection statute has altered the traditional legal status of animals as legal “things” according to Animal Law.
Modern Animal Rights

            According to Princeton, it has been said that the modern animal rights movement is the first social reform movement initiated by modern philosophers. Princeton establishes the Australian philosopher Peter Singer and the American philosopher Tom Regan have been influential because they represent two major currents of philosophical thought regarding the moral rights of animals. Singer, whose book Animal Liberation is considered one of the movement’s foundational documents, argues that the interests of humans and the interests of animals should be given equal consideration. A utilitarian, Singer holds that actions are morally right to the extent that they maximize pleasure or minimize pain; the key consideration is whether an animal has sense and can suffer pain or experience pleasure. Regan, who is not a utilitarian, argues that at least some animals have basic moral rights because they possess the same advanced cognitive abilities that justify the attribution of basic moral rights to humans. By virtue of these abilities, these animals have not just instrumental but inherent value. In Regan’s words, they are “the subject of a life” (Princeton, 2005).

While philosophers became catalysts of the modern animal rights movement, they were soon joined by physicians, writers, scientists, academics, lawyers, theologians, psychologists, nurses, veterinarians.  These professionals have worked within their own fields to promote animal rights. Many professional organizations were established to educate colleagues and the general public regarding the exploitation of animals.

Modern Animal Law

A turning point in the twentieth century was writing by Charles Phineas. Phineas proclaimed, “…the history of household pets remains too much the history of their owners” (Lichtenstein, 2005). At the beginning of the 21st century, lawsuits in the interests of nonhuman animals, sometimes with nonhuman animals named as plaintiffs, became common according to Animal Law. Given the positions that lawyers hold in the creation of public policy and the protection of rights, their increasing interest in animal rights and animal-protection issues have been significant. Dozens of law schools in different parts of the globe offer courses in animal law and animal rights. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has created an even greater number of law-student chapters in the United States and at least three legal journals. Legal scholars have devised and evaluated theories by which nonhuman animals would possess basic legal rights, often for the same reasons as humans do and on the basis of the same legal principles and values. These arguments have been powerful in increasing scientific investigations into the cognitive, emotional, and social capacities of animals and by advances in genetics, neuroscience, physiology, linguistics, psychology, evolution, and ethology, many of which have demonstrated that humans and animals share a broad range of behaviors, capacities, and genetic material.

Meanwhile, the increasingly systemic and brutal abuse of animals in modern society by the factory farms and by biomedical-research laboratories has spawned thousands of animal rights groups. Some consist of people interested in local animal-protection issues, such as animal shelters that care for stray dogs and cats. Others have become large national and international organizations, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the United States, which in the early 21st century had millions of members and a multimillion-dollar annual budget.


            Slaves, human or nonhuman, may be indirectly protected through laws intended to protect others. But they remain invisible to civil law, for they have no rights to protect directly until their legal personhood is recognized.  The fundamental principle of the modern animal rights movement is that many nonhuman animals have basic interests that deserve recognition, consideration, and protection. In the view of animal rights advocates, these basic interests give the animals that have them both moral and legal rights.

Regan, Singer, and other philosophical proponents of animal rights have encountered resistance. Some philosophers have argued animals are not as deserving of moral consideration as humans are because only humans possess an immortal soul. Others claim, as did the Stoics, that because animals are irrational, humans have no duties toward them. Still others locate the morally relevant difference between humans and animals in the ability to talk, the possession of free will, or membership in a moral community. The problem with these counterarguments is none differentiates all humans from all animals.

References/Annotated Bibliography

All Creation (2007). The World History of Animal Rights. Retrieved June 13, 2007, from http://all-creation.franciscan-anglican.com/quotes.htm

                        All Creation website is dedicated to animal rights through a theology point of view.  The website uses quotations through history to support Animal rights through religion.  The use of quotes from other religions and beliefs are also used as support.  Due to the author using positive quotes from not just the Christianity, but also other religions, this is a reliable source due to it rounds out the point of view.

Institute for Animal Law Organization (2006). Animal Law. Retrieved June 12, 2007, from www.animallawintl.org

The International Institute for Animal Law provides resources for any person seeking information on the history or current movements of Animal Law.  The source does not establish any arguments, but establishes their mission is to encourage education and advocacy for animals.  The point of the website is to provide students and other interested parties links to other resources.  The reliability of the website is fair due to it is geared towards protecting animals and provides a variety of information and other support, such as programs or grants.

Bartelby (2007). Erskine. Retrieved June 12, 2007, from www.Bartleby.com

            Bartleby is a secondary source due to the compilation of reference materials, such as texts, dictionaries, and encyclopedias.  There is no arguments only information taken from reliable sources.  The point of the information on Baron Erskine is to provide his achievements during his lifetime.  Due to the sources used by Bartelby, to obtain the information, this is a reliable source due to the research completed.

Lichtenstein, A. (2005, July 3,). Breaking from the Pack. Houston Chronicle, pg. Z12. Retrieved July 13, 2007, from the ProQuest database

                        Breaking from the Pack is an article reviewing how pets have not made a history of their own, but instead their history has been written through the eyes of their owners.  The author points out it is time for animals to become their own person due to they have affected the history of humans.  The source this article came from is a newspaper covering a variety of news.  Due to view points expressed and the comparison to other written works the reliability of the source  is strong.

References/Annotated Bibliography

Motavalli, J. (1995, September ). Our Dumb Animals. The Environmental Magazine, 6, pg. 5. Retrieved June 12, 2007, from the Proquest database

            This article reviews how Animal Rights began to change towards the end of the Twentieth century due to humanitarian efforts.  The article argues animals’ sense and can change cognitive behavior in the same ways as humans.  The article is written in a point of view that it provides facts, but does not take sides.  Prime examples from activities in research and humanitarian rights are used establishing reliability for the article.

Princeton (2005). Animal Rights Movement. Retrieved June 12, 2007, from www.Princeton.edu

                        The Princeton website provides links to the schools departments; therefore, providing information on the history and current research of the Animal Rights movement and Animal Law.  The information contained on the website does not take sides, but instead reviews the movement and changes it has made.  Research for the information set forth is completed by scholars of a high academic level establishing credibility for the information.

Sacred Text (2007). Hermogenienus. Retrieved June 10, 2007, from http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/ecf/101/1010308.htm

            The Sacred Text website has copies of translated texts available for the public to read and evaluate.  The source does contain arguments of points of view for the reader, but provides information instead of being coercive.  Although a translation of material is hard to verify without being able to read both versions of a text, the information may be deemed credible.

Serpell, J. (1998, May/June). Pre-Christian Attitudes Towards Animals. The Animals’ Agenda, 18, pg. 33. Retrieved June 12, 2007, from the Proquest database

            The article is a review of animal rights philosophy during the Greek Era and the debates on the issue.  The article establishes how the history of philosophical thought regarding the issue relates to theories today. The article reviews both sides of the issue, but does not take a stance on Animal Rights.  The article is published by a magazine dedicated to Animal Rights and coincides with other research for historical information regarding Animal rights; therefore, establishing credibility.

Wikepedia (2007). P.A. Fitzgerald. Retrieved June 10, 2007, from www.wikipedia.com

            Wikipedia is a resource which compiles information on a large variety of subjects.  Wikipedia has compiled information pertaining to the philosophical thought, history, and current movement of Animal Rights.  The point of the information is to provide a basic definition and history of the subject.  The site provides the resources it has used to comile the information to verify credibility.