The intrinsic rights and basic moral sense

Animal Rights

Introduction glance at the news is enough to reveal that few people are genuinely concerned about the welfare and plight of animals in the United Stated and in the world. For example, PETA Org recently launched a campaign against a large company for extreme animal abuse. There are numerous examples that occur daily of personal, corporate as well as institutionalized violence and cruelty afflicted against animals. This lack of concern forms the central crux of this paper. The question that this poses is why do people, who are normally caring and considerate, tolerate or even ignore cruelty and abuse of animals. How can this uncaring attitude exist in normal society? Does this cast a shadow on the idea that our society is normal and balanced?

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An aspect that my thesis will consider is that by and large people have become blind to animal cruelty as a result of social and commercial conditioning.

The fact that animals are living beings with a basic right to ethical and moral treatment seems to be dismissed in our society at large. In exploring this topic I will also take into account factors such as economics, social factors, agriculture and the commercial factors in the abuse and mistreatment of animals.

What are animal rights?

Animal rights simply refer to the intrinsic rights and basic moral sense that sees all life as important and connected. It refers to a basic ethical respect for all living beings. Cruelty and abuse to any living being is an infringement of these basic ethical human principles. This is made worse when those who are abused are animals that cannot speak or defend themselves. Similarly, the abuse of animals is an infringement not only of these basic rights that all living beings should enjoy but it also casts as shadow on the morality and meaning of human nature itself. Animal rights are defined by the Animal Rights Movement as follows.

The fundamental principle of the AR movement is that nonhuman animals deserve to live according to their own natures, free from harm, abuse, and exploitation. This goes further than just saying that we should treat animals well while we exploit them, or before we kill and eat them. It says animals have the RIGHT to be free from human cruelty and exploitation, just as humans possess this right. The withholding of this right from the nonhuman animals based on their species membership is referred to as “speciesism.”


The organization also states that “animal rights activists try to extend the human circle of respect and compassion beyond our species to include other animals, who are also capable of feeling pain, fear, hunger, thirst, loneliness, and kinship.” (ibid) As a result of this attitude they state that they cannot support inhumane activities such as factory farming, vivisection and the exploitation of animals for entertainment purposes.

3. The abuse of animals

Despite a wide array of organizations who publicize and communicate the reality of animal abuse, most people in the United States never give a thought about the plight of animals and the cruelty that is afflicted on them. Gary Francione in his article Animal Rights and the Future states that Recent surveys show that a majority of the population expresses some endorsement of the animal rights position, and most people are horrified when they become aware of the details of exactly how that steak got to their dinner plate. But at the same time there are more animals being used in more horrific ways than ever before.

Francione. G.)

It is estimated that over 8 billion animals are consumed for food every year. However, this is not even the crucial issue – it is rather the way these animals are raised or ‘cultivated’ and slaughtered that is the central cause for concern. “These animals are transformed into meat through a process known as “intensive agriculture,” which is shorthand for rearing practices that cannot be described as anything other than barbaric.” (ibid)

The conditions under which many animals are bred for food are horrific and should appall any decent human being.

Pigs live their lives in stalls, unable to turn around or to escape the suckling of the constant streams of litters that they are forced to have; calves live confined in small crates in dark, windowless buildings; laying hens are confined four to a cage measuring 12 inches square; broiler hens are confined so severely that cannibalism and disease kills many of the birds. (ibid)

Animal experimentation is also another area in which there is alarming abuse and even torture of animals for so-called scientific ends. There are many reported cases and evidence of animals being used in experiments where they are not only confined but often shocked, burned and mutilated in various ways.

What is of particular concern is that legally the human beings conducting the experiments are allowed to withhold anesthesia if anesthesia would interfere with the results of the experiment. (ibid) What is possibly even more alarming is that some of our most respected educational institutions have been implicated in horrific and cruel animal experiments.

An example is the case of Columbia University that was recently fined for the killing of puppies.

In order to avoid an embarrassing hearing before an administrative law judge, Columbia University has paid a $2,000 fine to the U.S. Department of Agriculture USDA) for egregious violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, including killing an entire litter of puppies by cardiac puncture, a method condemned by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Columbia University Fined for Cruel Puppy Killings)

The report goes on to state that the puppies were not properly sedated at the time of their killing. There are numerous examples that can be found in the media every day – and each seems to be more horrific than the last. For example, the following headline shows an extreme lack of concern for animals. “Live Cat Found In Freezer with Euthanized Animals” (Live Cat Found In Freezer, 2004)

The above examples again pose the central question of this paper – why do educated and seemingly ethical people ignore or condone cruelty to animals? A central reason is simply refusing to see the reality of the situation. Many people, including educated scientists, close their eyes to the fact that animals are living beings with feelings. They tend to see the animal as the “other” that, not being human, cannot feel pain or discomfort. “Researchers claim that animals are unlike us, so that we need have no moral concern about our exploitation of them.” (Francione G)

However, it is not only scientists who ignore the feelings of animals and see them as the “other.” A terrible example of cruelty to animals that had nothing to do with science, or even logic, is the custom of pigeon killing. On Labor Day of every year in Hegins, Pennsylvania shooters pay about $100 to shoot and beat to death about 8000 pigeons. (ibid)

Actions like this raise questions concerning the moral and ethical status of many people in our society as well as the authorities that allow these activities to take place. This also applies to the law which also seems to be blind to the plight of animals. In the incident of the pigeon killing mentioned above the Pennsylvania courts have to date refused to accept that such conduct violates the state anticruelty law. (ibid) This results in despair among many animal advocates as the legal system often seems unconcerned and unresponsive.

In asking the question why so few people actually care about animal cruelty, one can be possibly take a cynical attitude and view of human society. The fowling quotation outlines a rather bleak picture of human nature when it comes to the care for the world around them. This is quoted at length as it expresses an important aspect relating to the central thesis of this paper.

The fact that animals are voiceless is a relief to us; it frees us from feeling much empathy or sorrow. If animals did have voices, if they could speak with the tongues of angels-at the very least with the tongues of angels-it is unlikely that they could save themselves from mankind. Their mysterious otherness has not saved them, nor have their beautiful songs and coats and skins and shells, nor have their, strengths, their skills, their swiftness, the beauty of their flights. We discover the remarkable intelligence of the whale, the wolf, the elephant – it does not save them, nor does our awareness of the complexity of their lives. (Williams, Joy, 1997)

The reasons given in the above article for cruelty to animals is self-centeredness and selfishness.

Anything that is animal, that is not us, can be slaughtered as a pest or sucked dry as a memento or reduced to a trophy or eaten, eaten, eaten. For reasons of need – preference or availability. Or it’s culture, it’s a way to feed the poor, it’s different, it’s plentiful, it’s not plentiful, which makes it more intriguing, it arouses the palate, it amuses the palate,… it’s healthy, it’s somebody’s way of life, it’s somebody’s livelihood, it’s somebody’s business.(ibid)

This is a strongly worded statement and indictment of an uncaring humanity. However, bearing in mind the daily evidence of cruelty to animals one cannot but feel that there is an element of truth to this argument.

Commercial reasons for abuse

One of the central reasons or “justifications” for animal abuse and possibly why so many turn a blind eye to animal cruelty, is commerce and the profit motive.

The plain fact is that this country and other industrial countries are deeply dependent on animal exploitation to sustain their present economic structures. The plain fact is that we are more dependent on animal exploitation than were the states of the southern United States on human slavery. (Francione, G.)

Animals are essentially seen as property. While there are many laws designed to protect these animals these laws are also prejudiced towards the interests of the owners before the welfare of the animals. An example of the way animals are often treated only as commercial commodities is the following.

In Australia, lambs are put through a gruesome procedure called mulesing, in which huge chunks of skin are sliced from the animals’ backsides, with no painkillers given to the animals. Then, when their wool production declines, sheep are shipped to the Middle East on open-deck ships. These journeys, which can last months, are to countries where animal welfare standards are non-existent. So the suffering sheep are dragged off the ships, loaded into trucks, sometimes upside-down, and then have their throats slit while they are fully conscious. (United Cruelty of Benetton)

Agriculture, which is humanities oldest way of survival, previously meant a certain reciprocity and sense of care and dependence between the farmer and his animals. However, agriculture has now devolved into agribusiness and at no other time in history have farm animals been so badly treated. (ibid)

Another aspect which is related to commercialism is the creation of beauty products from animals -an aspect which reflects badly on the vanity of human nature.

Millions of Americans think they have discovered the fountain of youth in an injection of BOTOX®, whose key ingredient is botulinum toxin, the most poisonous substance known to mankind. Their mission to stop time, however, comes with a cost: An undisclosed number of mice suffer and die painfully in the testing phase of Botox. These animals die for nothing more important than to smooth out a few wrinkles. (Animals in Research)

Even technology is being harnessed in the search for pleasure and entertainment at the expense of animals. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recently exposed a plan to use the Internet as a means of hunting animals. Using the Web “users around the world would be able to log on to his website, pay a fee, and using the mouse on their computer, control a rifle mounted on a high-tech stand to aim, shoot and kill an animal.” (ASPCA Outraged at Texas Rancher’s Plan to Launch Internet Version of Canned Hunt, 2004)

5. Conclusion

There are many causes of animal cruelty. These range from the use of science to experiment on animals in order to produce cosmetics and drugs to enhance human life, to commercial legitimatization of animal abuse. Many Americans prefer not to see this cruelty and abuse and try to justify inhuman treatment by making arguments for commerce and scientific progress. What animal abuse does reveal is a sad reflection of human nature. In a country which prides itself on its civilized values and fairness there should be no reason or excuse for disregarding the rights of other living beings.


Animals in Research. Retrieved December 20, 2004 from The Human Society of the United States. Web site:”

ANIMAL RIGHTS FAQ FILE.Retrieved December 20, 2004 from Animal Rights Com. Web site:

Columbia University Fined for Cruel Puppy Killings. Retrieved: December 20, 2004 from Columbia University Cruelty. Web Site:

Francione, G. Animal Rights and the Future. Retrieved December 19, 2004 from Purify Our Mind. Web site:

ASPCA Outraged at Texas Rancher’s Plan to Launch Internet Version of Canned Hunt. 2004. Retrieved December 21, 2004 from the ASPCA. Web site:

Live Cat Found In Freezer (2004) Retrieved December 20, 2004 from Animals Concerns Community. Web site:

United Cruelty of Benetton) Retrieved: December 21, 2004. Web site: (Williams, Joy, 1997) Retrieved December 19, 2004 from Animal Liberation Front. Web site:

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