“What is man,” asked the Psalmist, “that Thou [God] are mindful of him?” An excellent question, and one which has aroused considerable controversy within the context of the arguments surrounding animal rights.
What, if anything, separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom, and what are the implications of one’s belief in this area? While these are certainly not new questions, they have become increasingly contentious in a world in which the line separating the human animal from the rest of the animal kingdom has become increasingly elusive.
Stephen Jay Gould once stated that “biology has shifted our status from a simulacrum of God to a naked, upright ape.” If that is the case, then the movement to elevate the status of non-human animals seems long overdue. At any rate, the animal rights movement has been remarkably successful in recent years. Switzerland passed a law in 1992 recognizing animals as beings; in 2002, Germany added “and animals” to its constitution, which already obligated the state to protect and respect the dignity of people. The Great Apes Project, founded by Peter Singer, the father of the modern animal rights movement, is lobbying the United Nations to include a wide range of simians in the “community of equals” with humans, thus extending the right to life, the protection of individual liberty, and the prohibition of torture.
The surge in animal rights is not limited to other countries. Beginning in 1999, Harvard began offering its first course in animal rights. During a recent election, the state of Florida made it a constitutional right for gestating sows to have space large enough to turnaround. And Princeton is home to Peter Singer, a bioethics professor, who believes that “it can no longer be maintained by anyone but a religious fanatic that man is the special darling of the universe, or that animals were created to provide us with food, or that we have divine authority over them, and divine permission to kill them.”
While the animals rights movement is diverse in both its stance and its level of activism, there is plenty of common ground to be found in the defense of animals, both philosophically and pragmatically. The philosophical core of the argument usually takes one of two approaches: The Argument from Equality, or the Argument from Pain. Continue Reading…