October 4, 2007
Animal Rights: Gaining Utilitarianism’s Approval
British naturalist Charles Darwin once stated, "The lower animals, like man, manifestly
feel pleasure and pain, happiness and misery. Happiness is never better exhibited than by young
animals, such as puppies, kittens, and lambs, when playing together, like our own children”
(“The Descent of Man”).
Traces of animal rights philosophy can be found as early as the 6
century B.C. by Pythagoras, but the modern movement began in 1824 when the world’s first
animal welfare organization, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, was
Similar animal advocacy groups emerged in Europe, then in North America, and
now there is an organized global effort for animal rights.
The sheer number of activists has
increased substantially, and as a result, support for their causes is consistently growing.
However, a clash exists between animal activists and several global industries, which have
traditionally shown little respect or regard for animals through their violent mistreatment of
There are a variety of perspectives, ranging from animals should be given equal
consideration to animals are completely inferior to humans.
Some philosophers believe that an
animal’s feelings are definitely irrelevant when assessing humans’ decisions because of their
inability to be rational.
Jeremy Bentham, the founder of Utilitarianism, which is an ethical set of
guidelines centered on utility and consequentialism that is used to determine the moral worth of
an action, revolutionized the way we evaluate the relationship between animals and humans.
Since animals suffer at the expense of a human’s pleasure, their happiness or lack thereof is
relevant when considering the moral justification of certain animal treatments.