Cruelty to animals

Domitian, one of the 17 macaque monkeys experimented on during the animal experiment in Silver Spring.

Cruelty to animals, also called animal abuse, animal neglect or animal cruelty, is the infliction by omission (animal neglect) or by commission by humans of suffering or harm upon any non-human. More narrowly, it can be the causing of harm or suffering for specific achievement, such as killing animals for food, for their fur or even their tusks; opinions differ about the extent of cruelty associated with a given method of slaughter. Cruelty to animals sometimes encompasses inflicting harm or suffering as an end in itself, defined as zoosadism. With approximately 65 billion animals killed annually for food, farm animals are the most numerous animals subjected to cruelty.[1]

Divergent approaches to laws concerning animal cruelty occur in different jurisdictions throughout the world. For example, some laws govern methods of killing animals for food, clothing, or other products, and other laws concern the keeping of animals for entertainment, education, research, or pets. There are a number of conceptual approaches to the issue of cruelty to animals.

For example, the animal welfare position holds that there is nothing inherently wrong with using animals for human purposes, such as food, clothing, entertainment, fun and research, but that it should be done in a way that minimizes unnecessary pain and suffering, sometimes referred to as "humane" treatment.[citation needed]

Utilitarian advocates argue from the position of costs and benefits and vary in their conclusions as to the allowable treatment of animals. Some utilitarians argue for a weaker approach which is closer to the animal welfare position, whereas others argue for a position that is similar to animal rights. Animal rights theorists criticize these positions, arguing that the words "unnecessary" and "humane" are subject to widely differing interpretations, and that animals have basic rights. They say that the only way to ensure protection for animals is to end their status as property and to ensure that they are never used as a substance or as a non-living thing.

Definition and viewpoints

Man beating a chained pitbull terrier with a strap. The strap is visible in the foreground.

Throughout history, humans believed in a God-given right to treat nonhuman animals with cruelty; however, some individuals, like Leonardo da Vinci for example, who once purchased caged birds in order to set them free,[2][3] were concerned. His notebooks also record his anger with the fact that humans used their dominance to raise animals for slaughter.[4] According to contemporary philosopher Nigel Warburton, for most of human history the dominant view has been that animals are there for humans to do with as they see fit.[2]

René Descartes believed that non-humans are automata⁠ ⁠— complex machines with no soul, mind, or reason.[5] In Cartesian dualism, consciousness was unique to human among all other animals and linked to physical matter by divine grace. However, close analysis shows that many human features such as complex sign usage, tool use, and self-consciousness can be found in some animals.[6]

Charles Darwin, by presenting the theory of evolution, revolutionized the way that humans viewed their relationship with other species. Darwin believed that not only did human beings have a direct kinship with other animals, but the latter had social, mental and moral lives too. Later, in The Descent of Man (1871), he wrote: "There is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties."[7]

Some philosophers and intellectuals, such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan, have argued that animals' ability to feel pain as humans do makes their well-being worthy of equal consideration.[8] There are many precursors of this train of thought. Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, famously wrote in his An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789):[9]

The question is not, can they reason nor can they talk? but, can they suffer?

These arguments have prompted some to suggest that animals' well-being should enter a social welfare function directly, not just indirectly via its effect only on human well-being.[10] In one survey of United States homeowners, 68% of respondents said they actually consider the price of meat a more important issue.[10]