Skip to content

On Animal Liberation and Environmental Ethics

In Angus Taylor‘s "Animal Right and Human Needs," you’ll find many issues you’ve been confronted with (and perhaps easily dealt with, perhaps not) when you speak with the average person about animal rights.

For instance, there’s "Wolves kill animals in the wild, why can’t we? Especially if we don’t ‘waste’ the animal and use as many parts as possible, right" (9)? As you know, a simple reminder that we don’t need to eat animals is a good start there. As for not wanting to be wasteful, Taylor writes:

If respectful utilization of animals involves limiting hostility toward them by taking only what is required, then for most people in the world today there can be no such thing as respectful meat eating, and this applies just as much in the case of wildlife as in that of farm animals.

You can also use that to dispense with the people who say, "Like Native Americans, I hunt and bless the beast and use all of its parts." Yeah, right.

Then of course there are those who think you should be committed to removing animals from the wild to care for them. You should want to prevent their suffering and provide them with food, shelter and medical care, right? But they’ve missed the point (or perhaps you did not articulate it clearly). "Our duty is in the first place negative: not to intervene against their wills in the lives of others" (11).

Taylor’s vital-needs rights view looks at animal rights in the context of vital human needs. It’s like a guide for what to ask yourself when pondering whether it is acceptable to interfere in the life of another sentient being. The interference principle says we may interfere only when we must do so to protect ourselves from harm, or where satisfaction of our vital needs requires such interference (2).

"The environmental ethic arising from the vital-needs rights view does
not aim to guarantee the well-being of animals, but to enable them to
employ their natural powers in pursuit of their well-being–free, as
far as reasonably possible, from direct or indirect human obstruction" (19).

You might find his view on dogs, cats and horses conflicts with yours, as he finds no reason to cease involving ourselves in their lives because they "can flourish as individuals in intimate association with human beings" (21), not to mention that because of our breeding of them, dogs might even need our companionship in order to flourish. I guess I’d wonder how much of our relationship with cats, dogs and horses is really about dominance and about what they do for us. I don’t know many people (outside of all of you peaches) who adopted or bought animals so they could provide a nice life for a homeless sentient being. It’s usually more like: I want a Rhodesian Ridgeback.

Check out Taylor’s Animals and Ethics: An Overview of the Philosophical Debate (which is an updated edition of Magpies, Monkeys and Morals).

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Awesome post, Mary. It's so helpful to be armed with this sort of information. I personally grow so tired of defending my decisions/choices because what I'm doing somehow threatens other people's comfort and apathy.

    January 29, 2008

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS