Animal Rights: History and Scope of a Radical Social Movement

By Harold D. Guither | Go to book overview

2
A Changing Philosophy for Human and Animal Relationships

The animal rights movement has emerged in the late twentieth century as a result of the writings of philosophers and critics concerning how animals are treated. The philosophers and activists do not completely agree on how humans should interact with animals, but all support more humane treatment. These concerns have ignited a social movement that is not likely to go away since the arguments are based on reason, not emotion. If enough people accept these ideas, major changes in the use and treatment of animals will take place.

T he writings of philosophers and the actions of their converts have sparked innovative and controversial ethical standards for human relationships toward animals. Since the 1970s, their writings have activated the latent support of millions of citizens, stimulated new movements, driven the development of new organizations, and generated intense political activity.

For philosophers, debate about the moral status of animals is not new. They frequently quote works of Aristotle, Descartes, Bentham, and Salt in their writings. But in recent years, the volume of literature has greatly expanded from anticruelty discussions to moral and ethical principles. The treatment of animals has emerged as a branch of applied ethics and is being examined, along with such issues as abortion and euthanasia, in philosophy courses and in the schools.1

In this new approach, philosophers present different and conflicting ideas about the moral and ethical basis for dealing with animals. However, most agree that changes and improvements are needed.2


Philosophical Concepts for the Treatment of Animals

By definition, philosophy is the study of the processes governing thought and conduct and a study of human morals, character, and behavior.3 Now in the last quarter of the

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