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Animal welfare or animal rights?

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In the defense of the interests of animals, we can distinguish two great philosophies: that defending greater animal welfare, and that claiming rights for animals. These two points of view correspond to two more general ethical conceptions:

  • deontologists base morality on rights and therefore claim rights for animals;
  • consequentialists simply judge an action or inaction by its consequences. In particular, utilitarians judge it based on its welfare implications. The central notion for them will therefore be animal welfare.

Animal welfare advocates often find that the animal rights perspective goes too far in some respects: animal welfare does not necessarily require the complete elimination of all use of animals, especially as pets. Rather, they defend the idea that humans have a moral responsibility towards animals, that of minimizing their suffering.

The cleavage between consequentialists and deontologists often intersects with another cleavage, that between abolitionists (supporters of the abolition of all forms of animal exploitation) and reformists (who fight to improve the animal condition without necessarily calling into question any form of animal exploitation). The defense of animal welfare often coincides with the reformist position. Therefore, some animal rights activists such as Gary L. Francione consider the animal welfare point of view to be inconsistent and morally unacceptable.

Some animal rights groups, such as PETA, are choosing to support reformist measures to alleviate animal suffering immediately, until the day comes when all forms of animal exploitation are ended.

Abolitionist movements are, however, often critical of the concept of animal welfare. According to them, the basic needs of every animal are to live and not to be treated like a commodity.

Canadian moralist David Sztybel distinguishes six different types of views about animal welfare:

  • animal welfare according to animal operators: “welfare” corresponding to the verification, by those who use animals, that they are treating them well;
  • animal welfare from the popular point of view: the concern of the average person to avoid cruelty and to be kind to animals;
  • empowering animal welfare: an opposition to cruelty that is more structured in terms of rules of conduct, but which does not reject most practices of animal exploitation (except perhaps the exploitation of animals for fur or for sport (hunting, fishing));
  • the utilitarian point of view, which seeks to minimize suffering, and may possibly accept animal exploitation if it appears to serve greater overall happiness;
  • new welfarism, a term introduced by Gary L. Francione to denote the view that measures to improve the condition of animals exploited by humans will ultimately lead to the abolition of all animal exploitation;
  • and finally, views that do not distinguish between “animal welfare” and “animal rights”.

Includes texts translated from Wikipedia

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