Animal rights is a set of values as well as moral and legal conditions which state that humans "do not have a right to use non-human animals for our own purposes, which include food, clothing, entertainment, and vivisection. This is based on a rejection of speciesism and the knowledge that animals are sentient beings." (Lin 2019)
Animal Rights and Animal Exploitation
As a philosophical idea, animal rights are grounded in the belief and knowledge that all animals are individuals with the capacity to suffer and with a right to life and well-being. As such, human beings have no right to exploit animals for our own gain. Animal rights opposes all forms of oppression and exploitation of animals, regardless of whether an animal is perceived as 'useful' for humans. Currently, humans use animals to derive products such as meat, dairy, eggs, leather, fur but we also exploit animals for hunting, in circuses, for animal experimentation or in the pet industry.
It is important to note that animal rights advocates do not wish for non-human animals to have the exact same rights as people. The moral stance that animals should not be used to fulfil human needs or desires does not imply that the rights of animals should be prioritised over human rights. As argued by Peter Singer, the rejection of speciesism being the fundamental basis of animal rights, stems from a belief in equality. But according to Singer, the basic idea of equality does not require equal treatment. It requires equal consideration (Singer 1975). Scientific research proves that animals, as sentient beings, feel fear, pain, pleasure, loneliness and love similarly to humans. From an animal rights standpoint, this implies that whenever we perform an action where an animal’s needs will be affected, we are morally bound to take those needs into consideration.
Animal Rights v. Animal Welfare
It is important to distinguish between animal rights and animal welfare as they are two separate concepts which, despite their many similarities, differ significantly.
As stated above, the animal rights position believes that humans have no right to use animals for their own purposes. The animal welfare position, on the other hand, believes that humans do have the right to use animals for purposes such as food, clothing or entertainment but that animals should be treated 'humanely'. Animal welfare argues that as long as animals are kept in good conditions where their well-being is taken into account, people have the right to use animals for their purposes. However, animal welfare advocates would usually draw the line at activities where animal suffering is greater than human gain. For instance, testing on animals in the cosmetics industry, exploiting animals for fur or for entertainment purposes such as cockfighting are unjustifiable from the animal welfare standpoint. Much like animal rights advocates, animal welfare advocates would argue for complete elimination of such practices.
An important part of animal rights is the belief that it is unjustified for humans to interfere with the lives of animals. While supporters of animal welfare believe that as long as humans are contributing to the well-being of animals and are treating them 'humanely', humans have the right (and even the responsibility) to interfere with an animal's life, which includes ending it.
Lin, D. (2019, April 21). Animal Rights Versus Animal Welfare.
Singer., P. (1975). Animal Liberation. Harper Collins.