From even before humans have risen as a species with formidable intellect, creativity and dominance over all nature, there have been animals. Humans have always had a deep relationship to animals as they connect us to our past time with nature. In more recent times, however, many people have lost touch with animals in any way that is beyond our sheer domination of them and their natural habitats. As discussed in the film “Earthlings: Make the Connection,” there are several parts of the oppression that humans put on animals in the present age in the areas of agriculture, entertainment and clothing. Some people choose to address these viewpoints and are intent on revealing the injustices done to the beings that they believe are deserving of better treatment than what they are submitted to in factory farms, fur farms and circuses. The positions that animal rights and welfare advocates hold vary and tend to range in their nuanced conclusions on animals’ moral standing and how they should be treated.
Cognitive ethology is the area of comparative cognition or animal learning that is both naturalistic in its emphasis and open to a consideration of several aspects of animal behavior. When species have their mental abilities evaluated and confirmed as being capable this gives bearing to how they are treated it is a branching off of Darwinian studies of animal evolution and psychology. Cognitive ethologists maintain that animals are not identical to humans mentally but nonhuman animals have rudimentary versions of almost all aspects of human behavior. With the proof of studies of chimps by Jane Goodall, as well as other researchers, there is clear evidence that the current treatment of animals is not up to stat for creatures that have emotions, desires and simple reasoning like humans.
It is clear that agriculture is one aspect of human society today that involves the maltreatment of animals. Each year in the United States 11 billion animals are raised and killed for meat, eggs, and milk. As we have been revealed by cognitive ethologists these sentient animals have the ability to feel pain, frustration, joy and excitement and the conditions they are confined in are far from an ideal situation for accurate feelings to be expressed. Chickens raised for meat are unable to walk due to the crippling affects that rapid weight gain does to their bodies, cows that are milked are perpetually inseminated in order to induce milk flow and after an average of 5 years are killed since they have lost their productivity, and birthing sows are confined in tight spaces in order to be able to propagate even faster than before. All of these animals are submitted to the cruel lives of factory farms where they never see sunlight, feed on grains unnatural for their usual diet and are prevented from moving for their lifespan. For sentient beings, or any other beings, these conditions are unacceptable.
The varying positions on animal welfare and rights have differing positions on the situations that animals are in today. The position of Strong Anthropocentrism has continually advocated for humane treatment but only in certain areas such as experimentation.
Further on the spectrum is the Animal welfare movement represented by organizations such as the Humane Society which argue that animals should be treated humanely but are neutral on the question of the standing of animals.
Norton’s weak anthropocentrism, as we touched upon earlier, addresses the indirect duties that humans have for animals and is akin to the Animal welfare movement.
What comes next is the Animal Rights movement, represented by PETA, a more radical organization that believes that humans have direct duties to animals and that we must abolish the institutions that keep them shackled. Van De Veer believes in a Two Factor Egalitarianism in which there is a Moral Hierarchy that dictates that humans have direct duties to animals.
Finally there is the Land Ethic, which extends moral direct duties to the environment and to animals. In all of these views animals are considered, they are simply thought of in different ways.
Animal Rights and Animal Welfare are two distinctive movements that are necessary to be further discussed. Animal rights is the idea that some or all animals are entitled to the possession of their own lives and their most basic interest-an interest in not suffering-should be afforded the same consideration as that of human beings. In contrast, Animal welfare, or the well-being of animals, has numerous standards of what is qualified to be considered welfare but it is based on the idea that non-human animals are sentient and consideration should be given for their well-being or suffering. These viewpoints do clash at times but there is a generally accepted idea that animals, regardless of whether they are sentient or not, deserve a certain level of humane treatment.
In my opinion, I agree most with the Land Ethic. I also understand that for some there is gap that needs to be bridged in order to understand ecosystems and their part in the world. What people generally believe is that animals are a means to an end, as well as the environment. After examination of the ideas propounded by ethologists there can be no mistake that animals deserve better. As I watched the film, “Earthlings: Make the Connection,” I winced and grew alarmed at the casual infringement upon the health and rights that the system we have today has towards animals. The mere fact that I was upset does raise my hopes that perhaps that is the answer: humans feel empathy for things that are unjust and due to the fact that I and several of my classmates were reduced to angry exclamations and tears says a lot about humanity’s relations to animals. Animals garner empathy in humans so they must be moral beings worth protecting from ourselves.
It is difficult to picture a world so different from what exists now, one without animals enslaved to feed, clothe and entertain us with no compensation to them, but it is the vision of many who believe that humans treat animals unfairly. Can we apply the anthropocentric concepts mentioned earlier to the nonhuman animals in acknowledgment of their moral standing, or will we continue to treat them as ‘means to an end’ in the principles of strong anthropocentrism. As with other ethical problems I think that there is a middle ground for these solutions and that one day there can be a compromise. What needs to be asked now is, what new innovations can we come up with to save animals from their fate, will they be figurative or physical innovations? Will we one day have the ability to coexist peacefully? For the fate of our diverse, important brethren, I only hope so.