Animal Ethics

Active involvement and attention to animal ethics has the potential to have a significant impact on domestic and global conditions within our society and our environment.


Animal Rights is the movement to protect animals from being used or regarded as property by human beings. Supporters believe that it is morally wrong to use or exploit animals in any way. This is often considered to be a very radical social movement (BBC).

Animal Welfare is concerned with ensuring that animal suffering for necessary purposes be eliminated or reduced to a minimum and that the usage of animals be a last resort (BBC).

Vivisection is the dissection of living animals for experimental purposes. The use of the term in recent years has been expanded to include all experimentation on living animals, rather than just dissection alone (

Historical Roots

Organized animal welfare can be traced back to philosophical teachings of Pythagoras (6th century) who taught respect for animals believing that transmigration occurred between the souls of humans and animals (Wikipedia). For the past three centuries, much debate over the humanness of animals has taken place amongst philosophers. Seventeenth and eighteenth century animal rights supporters argued that man himself began as an animal yet possessed freedom and intellect. They argued that animals should also enjoy natural rights and that man is obligated to practice good stewardship toward them. Rene Descartes, a French philosopher, held an opposing view. He felt that animals had no soul or intellect and could therefore be treated as things and not as beings (Wikipedia).

European nations such as Great Britain and Germany have historically taken the lead in advocating for animal rights. The world’s first animal welfare organization, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (SPCA) began in Great Britain in 1824. America’s first organization, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (ASPCA) began in New York in 1866. Soon thereafter, nearly every country in the world had animal welfare laws and organizations.

It was the views and arguments of such earlier philosophers that gave birth to the modern movement of animal rights. Since the 1970s, philosophers began again to question where the moral status of non-human animals was. Were non-human animals necessarily inferior to that of human beings? (Wikipedia) Much of the modern debate has been penned into ground-breaking and highly influential books as the advocates of the movement shifted from philosophers to include theologians, academic and professional groups, veterinarians, psychologists, psychiatrists, pathologists and former vivisectionists.

Today, the animal rights movement has widened to include active and sometimes volatile animal liberation supporters. Organizations have proliferated around the world to prevent the suffering, exploitation and inhumane practices of animals. Factory farming, biotechnology, clothing and entertainment industry and the inhumane sport hunting practices are at the forefront of today’s animal rights movement.


Active involvement and attention to animal ethics has the potential to have a significant impact on domestic and global conditions within our society and our environment. The complexity involved is the need to protect animals and their present and future existence while at the same time trying to find answers to medical mysteries and possible life-saving cures for mankind. As consumers, educating ourselves on this issue may prompt us to make more conscientious choices in what we eat and wear. In terms of legislation, protections under the law such as cruelty to animals do exist. Yet there are no laws protecting the individual or moral laws of animals. Animal rights activists and conservationists continue to advocate using political, physical and educational means to bring light to the inhumane conditions and sufferings of animals. Without this focus, mankind might not be aware of the negative impact that human behaviors such as factory farming, scientific research and the clothing and entertainment industry can potentially have on our environment.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Very few organizations that advocate for the rights of animals can experience success by merely relying on professional staff. Active engagement of individuals and communities is essential to this cause. There are many non-profit organizations, from grassroots to international that exist to advocate for the welfare and rights of animals.

The philanthropic efforts of various nonprofit organizations have been instrumental in creating state and federal legislation in our country. For example, Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society, has been credited for leading efforts through the Humane Society to help pass more than a dozen federal laws, fifteen statewide ballot initiatives, and countless state statues to protect animals (

Key Related Ideas

Animal Liberation coexists with the definition of animal rights, yet it is often referred to in a more radical context as a movement that seeks to regard animals as persons and that they too have moral and individual rights that must be protected (Wikipedia).

Speciesism is a term more familiar to and used by advocates of animal rights. It is a term that was coined in 1970 by Richard Ryder. It refers to values or rights assignments of various classes of species (Wikipedia), thereby creating a prejudice similar to racism or sexism. In defense of animals, advocates refer to speciesism when humans, who represent only one species of the animal kingdom, view themselves as the most important species in the animal kingdom.

Transgenic Animals are animals that have been deliberately bred for research and contain elements of more than one species. Often they are deliberately engineered to contain various defects such as a guinea pig that has been genetically altered to develop cancer (BBC).

Veganism is a relatively new term that refers to a lifestyle that avoids the consumption of food and clothing that use animals or contain animal products. People who adhere to this philosophy are referred to as vegans. Although the motivation behind one choosing such a lifestyle may vary, ethical concerns are among the number one factors involved in the decision (Wikipedia).

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Rod Coronado: (about 1966 —       ) Coronado is an American eco-anarchist and animal rights activist. His Pasqua Yaqui heritage accounts for his passion against animal abuse and environmental conservation. He has an extensive list of activism dating back to 1985 when, at the age of 19, he joined the crew of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in which he and a fellow activist caused millions of dollars worth of damage to an Icelandic whaling station. Recently, in 2004, Coronado was indicted on charges related to Earth First!
  • Ingrid Newkirk: (July 11, 1949 —     ) Newkirk is an animal rights activist, the president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and author of many books on animal liberation including Free the Animals; You Can Save the Animals, and Making Kind Choices. Born in England and reared in New Delhi, India, she is best known for her stunts and campaigns, which she has organized on behalf of PETA.
  • Alex Pacheco: (about 1960—      ) Pacheco, an animal rights activist, is another co-founder and former member of PETA.  He may be best known for his role in the highly publicized Supreme Court Case in 1982 involving the Institute for Biological Research in Silver Spring, Maryland.  Pacheco was a volunteer at this lab where he reported violations of animal cruelty laws against lab monkeys.
  • Tom Regan (November 28, 1938 —      ): On of the leading American philosopher of animal-rights.  He authored four books on animal rights including The Case for Animal Rights, which has significantly impacted the movement.  
  • Peter Singer (July 6, 1946—         ):  Australian philosopher and animal rights advocate.  He is considered the founder of today’s animal rights movement. He is the author of Animal Liberation which has been considered the bible of the modern animal rights movement.  He takes a utilitarian approach that advocates for equal consideration of interests.  (Wikipedia)   

Related Nonprofit Organizations

Animals in Medicines Research Information Centre (AMRIC) is an information office based in the UK that is concerned with the testing of animals in the development of medicines.  This center examines the various views and methods of animals in research and takes a pro vivisection stance.

Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) is committed to improving animal and human health through increasing public awareness and support for animal ethics in scientific research. 

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is the nation’s largest and most powerful animal welfare organization.  Since 1954 the Humane Society has advocated for public policies, conducted hands-on programs, and investigated cruelty to animals as the organizations works to reduce suffering and create meaningful social change for animals.  The top four primary issues include, factory farming, animal fighting and other forms of animal cruelty, fur trade and sport hunting practices.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is one of the largest animal rights organizations in the world.  Founded in 1980, PETA works through public education, research, celebrity involvement, legislation, etc to protect the rights of all animals. 

Related Web Sites

  • The BBC website contains a wealth of information on animal ethics.  The site does an excellent job defining the various terms and philosophical issues related to animal rights. 

Bibliography and Internet Sources

BBC.  Animal Ethics.

PETA.  PETA’S Mission Statement.

The Humane Society of the United States.  The Humane Society of the United States.

Wikipedia.  Animal Rights.