We are all mammals, a species, a type animal. As humans through history we have always thought we are somehow special compared to other species. Through the modern times the extent to which animals have become morally considerable beings has been and continues to be a slow and uneven process. In this essay I will be discussing animal ethics, starting briefly with the history of speciesism and then mainly focusing on two key forms with Peter Singer and his utilitarianism approach and secondly Tom Regan’s approach. I will also relate their approaches to animal farming that we see today and how this is becoming an ongoing issue. Then finally I will explore how Singer argues that there is a moral issue with our systems and how it allows them to treat animals in factory farming and that this is more important to change than individuals opinions as this is naturally already changing with the rise of veganism and vegetarianism.
The concept of speciesism was first used in 1970 by Richard D. Ryder but the term was made popular by Peter Singer in his Animal Liberation book from 1975. The definition of ‘speciesism’ is ‘discrimination in favour of one species’ usually this is the human species, the phrase is usually referred to when looking at the exploitation or mistreatment or animals (The Oxford English Dictionary, 2010). Singer also defined speciesism as ‘…a prejudice or attitude of bias in favour of the interests of one’s own species’ (Singer, Animal Liberation, Pp.6). As a form of discrimination speciesism has a very long and deep-rooted history.
Throughout history animals have always been mentioned especially when it comes to religion. Mainly all forms of religion talk about animals in some way. Some religions such as Hinduism see many animals as sacred. The sacred animas in Hinduism include elephant, horse, cow, bull tiger and more yet not imals are seen in this way. This is deeply rooted within their religion and something that generations upon generations respect. Christianity ignored animal suffering for a long time with them believing that humans were superior to animals however today modern Christians take a kinder pro-life to animals’ approach believing that mistreatment of animals is morally wrong (Bbc.co.uk, 2009). Now generally the treatment of animals is becoming a much bigger topic of conversation with veganism becoming hugely popular is recent years as well as peoples care and love for animals.
The first form of animal ethics to look at is Peter Singer’s Utilitarianism. Singer’s main aim is to advocate that people switch their attitudes towards how we treat other species other than our own extending the basic principle of equality to all species. He talks about how he understands how humans and animals have some differences however this shouldn’t stop the basic principle of equality from being extended to them (Singer, 2010, pp.169). The utilitarian idea that an action on a human can be considered right or wrong if it promotes happiness to everyone involved is something that Singer puts forward to other spices as well. To decide whether this is the case the utilitarian approach looks at the pain and pleasure and Singer would argue that animals can also feel pain and pleasure so why do we treat them any differently? (Singer, 1975). However, Singer promotes that it’s all about the ‘best possible consequences’ for all those involved. Singer once wrote that every sentient being is capable of having a better life, one that is ‘happier or less miserable’ than another, another reason they should be taken into account properly. This is him explaining that every species has the right to the best life it can possibly have and who are we to stop this (Singer, 1986, pp.227).
The second form of animal ethics to look at is related to Tom Regan who is the American philosopher who wrote ‘The Case for Animal Rights’ (Regan, 1983) which has later become a very important piece when looking at animal rights. Regan similarly to Singer shifts the emphasis from ‘rationality’ to ‘sentience’ explaining that all mammals over the age of one are a ‘subject-of-a-life’. What he means by this is that animals just like humans have a unique life ahead of them and that we are all individuals - whether we are human or not – going through the process of life. So why should this be taken away from animals just because we seem to acknowledge them as less than ourselves (Regan, 2010, pp.164-166). Regan says that the fundamental wrong is that our system allows us to view animals and other species as ‘resources’, that they’re here ‘for us’. Regan believes that we need to change our mindsets ad believe how the idea of animal rights has a reason for being brought into conversation and reality (Regan, 2010, Pp.161). Regan usually speaks with the concept of mammals however you could also look into all sentient creatures to.
In recent years a huge debate concerning animal ethics and the mistreatment of animals comes from animal farming, but not the classic farming you might think of but intensive factory farming or mega farms. Factory farming is where you are ‘raising animals for food in extreme confinement’ to make more money/profit. In these types of factories there is other abuse other than the tiny confinement, but the animals are given drugs, are put through cruelty such as debeaking, tail docking etc. Animals in these types of conditions are miserable (Lin, 2017). These types of farms are made to produce huge quantity of meats ready for the supermarket chains as with an increasing population and the demand for food on the rise these US style farms are on the rise to (Harvey, Wasley and Davies, 2017). In Herefordshire alone there are more than 16 million factory farmed animals which is 88 times more factory farmed animals than we have humans (Harvey, Wasley and Davies, 2017). These types of farms are usually very large with mass quantity of animals inside in cramped, unliveable conditions.
Animal welfare campaigners argue that this style of farming where they are rarely or never allowed outside ‘prevents animals from expressing their natural behaviour’ this links to how Singer argues that every animal should be able to live a better life where it is ‘happier and less miserable’ (Singer, 1986, pp.227). Singer argues that a decent life is not possible for animals in these types of conditions because the way these companies make so much profit is by taking away the nicer things to make these animals lives better because that cost money therefore by taking them away they maximise their profits. In a piece written by Singer and Mason called ‘The way we eat’ they explain that the issue isn’t about the individual people behind the factory farms but the real issue is the fact the system/government only care about the welfare of animals when it affects profits (Singer and Mason, 2006). The only way we can make this better is by changing the way the system looks at animals altogether which means society’s perspective on animals’ welfare and lives has to change which in recent years is definitely becoming more of a vocal point. This idea links to Regan as when we look at factory farming it is another example of how animals are shown to be ‘resources’ to humans and that we can use them to our use and that the only way to change this is to change our mindset on how we look at other animals and realise that we have no right to treat them as if they are less than us (Regan, 2010, Pp.161).
In recent years along with the fight against animal farming as people grow to see it as distasteful and cruel towards animals comes the rise of veganism and vegetarianism. The idea that more people are now becoming vegan and vegetarian because they don’t want to be harmful towards animals falls inline with what one of Singers main arguments about factory farming and how eating animals goes against the basic ethical rights of how we should treat animals (Singer, 1980). Singer argues that do the hedonistic preferences of enjoying the taste of meat outweigh the preferences of the animals not suffering/being killed? Why should our enjoyment of eating the food be more valuable than an animal’s life? Which is why I believe in recent years veganism has become a lot more popular because people are starting to think about these concepts for themselves and make decisions about their own eating habits. So, that in particular shows that people do care about animals as people are taking it into their own hands to try and stop the huge number of animals being farmed and treated so terribly in this system in place to provide for us however there is obviously still a long way to go with 80% of the world still consuming meat. Killing on average ’58 billion chickens’ and ‘1.3 billion pigs’ still taken from records in 2014 (McGuinness, 2014). When you read deeper into Singer’s thoughts on how we change the way people perceive animals’ rights and liberties it might not be all about changing the attitudes of individual people as that is being proven to change anyway with society. Instead looking at how we change the actual systems and large companies’ ways of treating animals (Singer, 2010).
In conclusion, in this essay I have discussed how the history and speciesism of animals was one of the first ways that animals were seen to be less than us. Through different religions they had different measures of how they perceived animals with some seeing certain animals as sacred while others saw animals as the lesser to humans. From this deep-rooted way of thinking animals have since most commonly been seen as lesser to humans and as a ‘resource’ to be used by use at our own will often without any consideration to how the animal feels. I explored how Singer and Regan both looked at how animals should no longer be seen as inferior to humans and that every animal species has the right to a life. That if as humans we decide what is seen as right or wrong through pain and pleasure and these animals can also feel pain and pleasure then why are we treating them as anything less than how we treat each other. Then I went onto link how Singers ideas link to animal farming which today is a huge discussion on how animals are being mistreated detailing how the animals have the opportunity to have a happier life so should be allowed this according to Singer. Finally, I looked at how Singer believes that changing individuals opinions and the way they live isn’t where the main issue is, and that actually when looking at the concept of animal farming the cause of the issue comes from the system and the big national companies that are allowing this to happen without proper consideration of animals rights because their main concern is profit. Animal ethics is focused on making animals and humans equal in the right to have a happy life.