Animal rights and wrongs

July 5, 1996

I was disturbed by Roger Scruton's article "Talk on the wild side" (THES, June 28) which suggested humans are morally entitled to eat, hunt and generally abuse what he calls "the lower animals". He says he can find no grounds for arguing humans should not eat other animals ("or human beings provided they are already dead") and that this is perfectly all right as long as we provide animals reared for food with "a fulfilling life". In fact, we "ought to eat them, since they depend for their very existence upon us doing so".

A few holes can picked in such contentions. First, humans have created the farming industry which uses animals as its raw material because they have found them easy to exploit and thus an artificial dependency is engendered.

There is nothing natural or morally right about it. It is questionable whether existence under such conditions is preferable to extinction. Second, it is doubtful that a life absolutely controlled by others to the point where another creature is keeping you merely to kill you can ever be fulfilling. In any case, as Scruton believes animals cannot be members of the "moral community" because they do not make free choices, it is hard to see to what extent they could have a "fulfilling life".

Scruton suggests blood sports, such as fox hunting, are acceptable if they give participants "innocent", rather than "vicious pleasures". This ignores the pain and suffering inflicted. But, presumably, that does not matter as long as we abuse them "innocently" because, after all, they are not members of our exclusive club - the "moral community".

Behind Mr Scruton's elaborate philosophising sits a simple prejudice. As some living creatures have different qualities to those we have termed human - the "lower animals" do not think and reason like us, for instance, and have not opened a single philosophy department - we can exploit and abuse them as long as we do not do so "viciously".

I admit it is a very convenient argument - if you happen to be human. But it is little more than an intellectual rationalisation of the institutionalised abuse of one species by another. What of those humans whose capacity for reasoning is severely limited? Should we refuse to renew their membership of our cosy moral community?

I think society would benefit from a greater respect for all forms of life, regardless of category.

David Fisher Library and Information Services Nottingham Trent University

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