About this Book

This book provides an overview of the current debates about the nature and extent of our moral obligations to animals. Which, if any, uses of animals are morally wrong, which are morally permissible (i.e., not wrong) and why? What, if any, moral obligations do we, individually and as a society (and a global community), have towards animals and why? How should animals be treated? Why?

We will explore the most influential and most developed answers to these questions – given by philosophers, scientists, and animal advocates and their critics – to try to determine which positions are supported by the best moral reasons. Topics include:
  • general theories of ethics and their implications for animals,
  • moral argument analysis,
  • general theories of our moral relations to animals,
  • animal minds, and
  • the uses of animals for food, clothing, experimentation, entertainment, hunting, as companions or pets, and other purposes.
The book offers discussion questions and paper assignments to encourage readers to develop positions on theoretical and practice issues concerning ethics and animals, give reasons for their support, and respond to possible objections and criticisms.

This book is organized around an initial presentation of three of the most influential methods of moral thinking for human to human interactions. We then see how these ethical theories have been extended to apply to human to animal interactions, i.e., how humans ought to treat non-human animals.
These perspectives are:
  • a demand for equality or equal moral consideration of interests (developed by Peter Singer);
  • a demand for respect of the moral right to respectful treatment (developed by Tom Regan); and
  • a demand that moral decisions be made fairly and impartially and the use of a novel thought experiment designed to ensure this (developed by Mark Rowlands, following John Rawls).
We will see what these moral theories imply for the general “moral status” of various kinds of animals and for particular uses of animals, e.g., for food, fashion, experimentation, entertainment, and other purposes. We attempt to evaluate these theories as true or false, well-supported or not and the arguments based on them as sound or unsound.

We will also survey general moral theories that imply that we have few if any, moral obligations to animals and other arguments given in defense of various uses of animals. One challenge for learning about ethics and animals is that there are fewer defenses of harmful animal use developed by professional ethicists than critiques of animal use. Since the common view is that animal use does not raise serious moral issues, perhaps people often do not see much need to defend that assumption. 

Nevertheless, we will find materials that provide the strongest and most common defenses of various uses of animals so that we might evaluate the arguments in favor of these positions.


The theories from Singer, Regan and Rowlands are developed in these books, and others:

1. Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, 3rd Edition (Ecco 2002, 1990, 1975). http://www.princeton.edu/~psinger/

A classic, the book that started the modern animal protection movement.

2. Tom Regan, Empty Cages: Facing the Challenge of Animal Rights (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). http://tomregan-animalrights.com

A descendent of a classic, Tom Regan’s 1983 The Case for Animal Rights. In addition to an argument that many animals possess moral rights, the book tells the stories of animal advocates’ personal development (including Regan’s) and discusses the influence of the media and animal use industries have in shaping how people often address ethics and animals. The best general introduction to ethics & animals issues.

3. Mark Rowlands, Animals Like Us (Verso, 2002).

According to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) some people think Animals Like Us is the next Animal Liberation. Rowlands has other, more recent books on animals and ethics also, e.g., Animal Rights: All That Matters.

Good discussion and commentary are found in these books, which are recommend reading:

4. Lori Gruen, Ethics and Animals: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2011): http://www.lorigruen.com/

This book provides both original arguments, beyond those from the authors above, and insights and reviews and comments on many of the theories from Singer and Regan.

5. Angus Taylor, Animals and Ethics: An Overview of the Philosophical Debate, 3rd edition (Broadview 2009). A nice overview of the literature. (On Amazon.)

This is a good “secondary source” that gives an overview of the many philosophical positions on theoretical and practical issues concerning ethics and animals.

Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of this book, students will be able to:
  • understand basic, fundamental concepts, theories, and methods of reasoning from general ethics
  • apply these ethical concepts to specific moral issues concerning animals;
  • demonstrate stronger general skills in analyzing logic, critical thinking, and moral argument analysis;
  • identify and evaluate arguments defending or opposing particular uses of animals, and theoretical claims about our obligations toward animals;
  • understand the most influential moral arguments and positions given in defense of animals and for greater animal protection, these arguments’ similarities and differences, the most common and influential objections that are raised against them, and how these arguments’ advocates respond in defense of their positions;
  • understand the most influential moral arguments and positions given in defense of animal use and against increased animal protection, these arguments’ differences, the most common and influential objections that are raised against them and how these arguments’ advocates might respond in defense of their positions;
  • understand and be able to evaluate claims about the morally-relevant empirical information needed to make informed moral judgments on ethics and animals issues;
  • understand what implications the various theories of ethics have for practical, concrete uses of animals, e.g., for food, for clothing, for experimentation, for entertainment, etc., as well as stronger skills at identifying and evaluating other reasons given for and against such uses of animals;
  • more deeply develop their own views on the nature of our obligations to animals and be abler to provide moral defenses of their views and respond to critical objections and questions.

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