Should Animals Have Rights?

Most of the time when we go grocery shopping or out to eat a restaurant, we have no idea where the food that we are eating has actually come from. The pictures on the packaging reassure us that the animals were raised on a family farm far outside of our concern. In reality, over 95% of the meat we consume is the product of factory farms. The industrial nature of these farms treat animals as though they are a market good: a commodity that is here to serve our needs. In honor of earth week, I think it’s time to re-evaluate what it means to have rights and why we should grant them to animals.


In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote that we should extend equal rights to women. At the time, this was such an absurd idea that other ethicists satirized the entire argument by substituting women with animals. If women were supposed to have any sorts of rights, why shouldn’t animals as well? Years later, after women were granted the right to vote and making (at least 77%) as much as men were, the reasons that qualified women as “lesser than” men all seem arbitrary. We no longer see women as irrational beings made for the sole purpose of serving a man; women deserve equal treatment and their interests should be considered just as much. We live in a time that grants these consideration to all groups of people.


Even if there were some factual difference between entire groups of people, it would still be wrong to discriminate against them on their basis of their identity. So treating people equally is not dependent on their capability. In the same way that we should treat people with respect, we should treat animals with respect. Equality is a moral ideal that we should strive for, and we have every reason to extend it to animals.


In an attempt to justify factory farming, some argue that animals do not have the same capacity for moral judgement, intelligence, or feelings. Still, they are beings with the capacity to suffer. Jeremy Bentham, a famous utilitarian philosopher, writes that the capacity for suffering gives a being the right to equal consideration. If an animal can suffer, then we are morally obligated to take their suffering into consideration.


Factory farming, maximizes product and minimizes cost by using hormone treatments and artificial statements. This commodification of animals completely disregards their rights and is inconsistent with our views of equality. They are in need of reformation and this reformation starts with changing the way that we see animals.