AR-FAQ - #02

#02 Is the Animal Rights movement different from the Animal Welfare movement? The Animal Liberation movement?

The Animal Welfare movement acknowledges the suffering of nonhumans and attempts to reduce that suffering through "humane" treatment, but it does not have as a goal elimination of the use and exploitation of animals. The Animal Rights movement goes significantly further by rejecting the exploitation of animals and according them rights in that regard. A person committed to animal welfare might be concerned that cows get enough space, proper food, etc., but would not necessarily have any qualms about killing and eating cows, so long as the rearing and slaughter are "humane". The Animal Welfare movement is represented by such organizations as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Humane Society. Having said this, it should be realized that some hold a broader interpretation of the AR movement. They would argue that the AW groups do, in fact, support rights for animals (e.g., a dog has the right not to be kicked). Under this interpretation, AR is viewed as a broad umbrella covering the AW and strict AR groups. This interpretation has the advantage of moving AR closer to the mainstream. Nevertheless, there is a valid distinction between the AW and AR groups, as described in the first paragraph. Animal Liberation (AL) is, for many people, a synonym for Animal Rights (but see below). Some people prefer the term "liberation" because it brings to mind images of other successful liberation movements, such as the movement for liberation of slaves and liberation of women, whereas the term "rights" often encounters resistance when an attempt is made to apply it to nonhumans. The phrase "Animal Liberation" became popular with the publication of Peter Singer's classic book of the same name. This use of the term liberation should be distinguished from the literal meaning discussed in question #88, i.e., an Animal Liberationist is not necessarily one who engages in forceful civil disobedience or unlawful actions. Finally, intellectual honesty compels us to acknowledge that the account given here is rendered in broad strokes (but is at least approximately correct), and purposely avoids describing ongoing debate about the meaning of the terms "Animal Rights", "Animal Liberation", and "Animal Welfare", debate about the history of these movements, and debate about the actual positions of the prominent thinkers. To depict the flavor of such debates, the following text describes one coherent position. Naturally, it will be attacked from all sides! Some might suggest that a subtle distinction can be made between the Animal Liberation and Animal Rights movements. The Animal Rights movement, at least as propounded by Regan and his adherents, is said to require total abolition of such practices as experimentation on animals. The Animal Liberation movement, as propounded by Singer and his adherents, is said to reject the absolutist view and assert that in some cases, such experimentation can be morally defensible. Because such cases could also justify some experiments on humans, however, it is not clear that the distinction described reflects a difference between the liberation and rights views, so much as it does a broader difference of ethical theory, i.e., absolutism versus utilitarianism. DG

Historically, animal welfare groups have attempted to improve the lot of animals in society. They worked against the popular Western concept of animals as lacking souls and not being at all worthy of any ethical consideration. The animal rights movement set itself up as an abolitionist alternative to the reform-minded animal welfarists. As the animal rights movement has become larger and more influential, the animal exploiters have finally been forced to respond to it. Perhaps inspired by the efforts of Tom Regan to distinguish AR from AW, industry groups intent on maintaining the status quo have embraced the term "animal welfare". Pro-vivisection, hunting, trapping, agribusiness, and animal entertainment groups now refer to themselves as "animal welfare" supporters. Several umbrella groups whose goal is to defend these practices have also arisen. This classic case of public-relations doublespeak acknowledges the issue of cruelty to animals in name only, while allowing for the continued use and abuse of animals. The propaganda effect is to stigmatize animal rights supporters as being extreme while attempting to portray themselves as the reasonable moderates. Nowadays, the cause of "animal welfare" is invoked by the animal industry at least as often as it is used by animal protection groups. LJ

SEE ALSO: #01, #03, #87-#88