In the phrase “animal rights,” the word “animal” is rarely, if ever, understood to refer to humans. Instead, it is virtually always a reference to living beings outside our own species. Humans are, of course, primates, mammals, vertebrates, and so forth. Since all of these categories are animal categories, it can be said that scientifically humans are “animals” in every sense of the word. Further, since humans clearly have rights (however we end up defining this term), in one minor sense it is true that everyone already acknowledges that at least some animals (namely, humans) have and deserve rights.
But the driving issue in the animal rights movement discussed in this book is the question of which other animals, that is, which other primates, other mammals, other vertebrates, and so on, might also be said to have rights? If the answer to this question is that no others now have them, is it the case that any of the living beings beyond the species line need or deserve rights of one kind or another?
We later turn in this chapter to more discussion of just who and what fits into the category “animal.” Here we turn to some preliminary issues that can be seen better if we look at the other important word in this controversial phrase.
The word “rights” gives virtually any discussion a special quality. Because many people today assume that only humans should have legal rights, controversy can arise when someone