Are We Ethical in Our Use of Animals?

By Baltaz, Diane | Compass: A Jesuit Journal, July-August 1996 | Go to article overview

Are We Ethical in Our Use of Animals?


Baltaz, Diane, Compass: A Jesuit Journal


Seal hunters drive European anti-sealers off the Magdalen Islands. Pickets in Edmonton protest against Alberta farmers who keep pregnant mares under "inhumane conditions" to sell their estrogen-rich urine to an American pharmaceutical firm. Emotional confrontations such as these signal that not all is well in the human-animal world.

Like the environment, feminism and other such "movements," animal rights appears to be a new issue. But debate about what constitutes animal rights is not fringe stuff, as opponents allege. In 1989, a Parents magazine survey revealed that 80 per cent of the magazine's mainstream, middle-class American readership believed that animals have rights--though 80 per cent also believed that it was morally permissible to use animals for human benefit.

Animal rights began to receive significant attention in the mid-1960s, first with the advent of Ruth Harrison's book Animal Machines in Britain and then with Australian philosopher Peter Singer's contention of "animal liberation"--that we should attach as much importance to the suffering of animals as we would to similar suffering of people. The term "animal rights" didn't catch on until the American philosopher Tom Regan argued that most current uses of animals are wrong, not because they cause suffering but because they violate animals' inherent rights as much as slavery violates basic human rights.

The idea of animal rights centres on relationships--relationships between animals and those who farm them, hunt them, trap them, use them for research, and eat them (which for most of us is our most direct contact with animals outside of pets and wildlife sightings). If the idea of animal rights seems to be new, our relationship with animals is actually one of history's oldest philosophical discussions, beginning when our ancestors clubbed their first mastodon. The ethical attitudes that shape this relationship do not occur ex nihilo; rather, they are built on previous experience.

The issue receives unprecedented attention today because of unprecedented changes in our dealings with nature and other people and our accountability to God. This combination of continuity and change makes animal rights a natural step in the evolution of human ethical thought.

Our present-day ethics hail from ancient Greece, whose citizens shared our gamut of beliefs. Stoics and Aristotle said that animals fall outside our sphere of moral concern because they lack reason and beliefs. Pythagoras promoted vegetarianism because killing livestock equalled human bloodshed. Early Christianity absorbed this diversity, with some Christians becoming moral vegetarians. Thus, the Rule of St. Benedict forbade monks from eating meat unless they were ill. The pro-meat side rejoiced when St. Augustine declared that "Thou shalt not kill" didn't apply to beasts that "fly, swim, walk or creep because they are linked to us by no association or common bond."

St. Augustine's influence, and later St. Thomas Aquinas's similar views, turned this perception of animalus domesticus into the accepted Christian ethic. In contrast to Native and eastern philosophies, which saw animals as having souls and therefore as being part of these philosophies' sphere of ethical concerns, western thought excluded animals from our legal and moral systems until the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, strong biblical injunctions fostered a common social consensus forbidding wanton cruelty to animals. Granted, there were exceptions, such as the time when Christ sent the Gadarene Demons into a herd of swine (which promptly lunged off a cliff) and when Queen Elizabeth I burned an effigy of the pope stuffed with live cats.

History justifies claims that the idea of animal rights reflects our distancing from nature. In the Middle Ages, 90 per cent of the population worked in food production. Indeed, western civiliation was agrarian until the last two centures. At Confederation, 80 per cent of Canadians laboured on farms; others fished or hunted for a living, implying a close reliance on nature. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Are We Ethical in Our Use of Animals?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.