There is a great debate going on in the world on whether animals have or do not have their rights. Analyzing the very essence of this issue, and assuming some moral reasoning with regard to the world being better with less pain and less suffering, it is fair to argue that some or all the non-human animals do possess basic living rights and freedoms.
According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, a non-profit organization educating the public on the practices of vegetarianism, health, ecology, ethics, world hunger, and nutrition, the concept of animal rights is the moral philosophy of giving non-human animals an opportunity to possess the most basic freedoms that all sentient beings need. These rights include the freedom to live a normal life free from the human exploitation, unnecessary suffering, pain, and premature death.
From the humane point of view, today, as people intensely move into the world of the advanced intellectual and social growth, most of them realize or at least start realizing that many feeling creatures have been discriminated against in the past; then, their rights were taken away from them because of the class they belonged to. Even though in the present, there is still prejudice based on the class, this phenomenon is less common among many people. For instance, it has become an important positive value in the developed cultures to be against sexism and racism. Interestingly enough, an important aspect of prejudice is that many human beings are unable to relate to it until it starts affecting them on a personal level. In order to make the lives of people better, they must learn to protect not only other humans, but also non-human animals. It is difficult to understand how humanity is going to solve the difference between its own species if it cannot or refuses to learn to live in peace with the other animals on earth. People need to start living in co-existence rather than dominance. Peace starts with an individual who makes a conscious effort to live his/her life causing the least possible negative influence.
From the philosophical point of view, there are certain premises that logically explain the reasons of why animals do possess certain rights such as the right to natural life without unnecessary pain and suffering, which may be caused by the activities of human beings. Most people believe in the assertion that the world with less suffering and pain is much better than the world with more suffering and pain. The second assertion that is also believed by many people is that the world with less evil is better than the one with more evil. It is not a surprise that pain and sufferings are associated with evil for some people. Consequently, the reason why some individuals believe that God prevents unnecessary pain is because they consider suffering bad, and the world would definitely be better without it. Therefore, if suffering and pain are bad, it becomes clear that the unnecessary cruelty is also bad and wrong; it should not be encouraged, supported, or tolerated. Besides, if people attempt to improve their lives by making the world a better place, they need to do what they reasonably can not make the world a worse place. Another assertion assumes that a morally good individual will definitely take steps to make the world a better place. Moreover, a morally decent individual would try even harder to avoid making the world a worse place. Therefore, even a minimally good person needs to take steps and help decrease the unnecessary suffering and pain in the world. Consequently, believing that everything stated above is true and that non-human animals are capable of feeling pain, it is wrong, from the moral standpoint, to cause them unnecessary suffering, just as it is morally wrong to exploit animals for no good reason. Therefore, from the moral point of view, animals do possess natural right to live their lives in harmony with good and/or minimally decent people who attempt to make the world a better place, free from unnecessary pain, suffering, and exploitation.
In addition to understanding that it is morally wrong to cause animals unnecessary pain, it is fair to accept the fact that it is inappropriate to kill animals contributing to their premature death. Only if animals are untreatably injured, it is the duty of a human being to euthanize them in order to put them out of their suffering and misery, whenever feasible.
There is another issue, causing a strong debate in the world. This issue is vegetarianism, a philosophy of giving up the meat consumption for the sake of saving lives of the non-human animals, and thus accepting their natural right to life; and/or improving the health. Many reasons for the moral duty of vegetarianism fall under one of the two approaches. They follow either Peter Singer’s, an Australian philosopher, arguments advocating the animal rights to life on the utilitarian basis, or Tom Regan’s, an American philosopher, who employed the deontological rights approach insisting that most animals people consume on a daily basis have the same rights-granting properties, which grant rights to humans. Most philosophers, however, have not been persuaded by the argument. They claim that both the Regan’s moral rights theory and Singer’s preference utilitarianism are flawed. Meat-loving philosophers argue that, unless there is a clear moral reason for not consuming meat, they will continue rejecting the natural rights of non-human animals to life. Following this logic leads to the assumption that any behavior can be justified, as no theory of ethics is immune to objection. An opponent of homicide may appeal to utilitarian basis to establish the immorality of homicide. On the other hand, the fictitious homicide-loving philosopher can argue that all of the anti-homicide ethical theories wallow, and until there are real clear moral reasons for not committing homicide, it is acceptable to murder anybody possible. The logic above appears to be unreasonable because homicide is clearly immoral. Therefore, rejecting this logic, it is fair to accept the appropriateness of animal rights and vegetarianism.
Finally, from the spiritual point of view, from the very beginning of days, Christian Bible presents a story of God giving Adam and Eve the authority over all the living creatures. This authority meant responsibility, care, and protection over the earth and non-human animals. It is clear that, when the humans were still free from the original sin and were still in the favor of God, exploitation, unnecessary pain, suffering, and consumption of animals were not welcomed. God stated that he gave all seed-bearing plants on the earth and the fruit trees to Adam and Eve to eat. Therefore, originally, non-human animals were not only granted the rights to life free from pain and suffering but also were to be protected and taken care of by humans.
Some people believe that the idea of animal rights itself is implausible. Suggesting the fact that animals possess neither rationality nor self-awareness, Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, considered animals the instruments of man, deserving protection, but only to help humans in their relation to each other. He believed that a man who is cruel to non-human animals becomes hard and can be cruel toward another man, as well. Jeremy Bentham, a British philosopher, on the other hand, suggested that mistreatment of animals was similar to racial discrimination and slavery. Many people reject the analogy to slavery. However, in the past ten years, the issue of animal rights has moved from the periphery toward the very center of legal and political international debate. In 2002, the first European nation that took the initiative to vote for the guarantee of animal rights in its constitution was Germany. It added the words “and the animals” to the part that obligated the country to protect and respect the dignity of all human beings. A great deal for reducing animal sufferings, including the ones caused by the use of animals in the entertainment, agriculture, and scientific experiments, has been done by the European Union.
Animals can be seen as beings, with which humans share a common life; this kind of recognition allows people to see animals as they are. Therefore, an individual striving for virtue realizes that consuming animals is wrong not simply because it is the violation of the rights of animals, but also because by eating, exploiting, or causing them pain or suffering, this individual does not display the character traits, which sensitive, kind, mature, compassionate, and thoughtful member of the moral community ought to display. Even assuming the fact that non-human animals are not rational or self-aware, the moral significance is still relevant. By seeing the attitudes that underlie the animal abuse as a cruel and shallow action, a person interested in living a truly virtuous life will most likely change his/her attitudes to come to reject using animals as food and/or tools for research. Many people of goodwill sometimes or even often disagree in the answers to the questions regarding the morality of consuming animals or using them in scientific experiments, everyone agrees though that these are inescapable and legitimate ethical questions.
Morality is not only about treating other human beings in the ethical way, but also about treating every aspect of human life that way, including animals. It is the responsibility of every individual to remember why he/she is on the earth: to make the word a better place, or at least not to make it worse. The great philosophical debate regarding the appropriateness of non-human animal rights is still going on in the world. However, despite the vague arguments of some philosophers, many people transform their attitudes toward animals. A truly virtuous individual will conclude for him/herself that animals do have rights, which humans must respect and protect, because this is one of the preconditions for preserving morality in the world.
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