In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Animal Rights

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Anthologies
  • Historical Studies
  • Databases
  • The Basic Argument
  • Utilitarianism and Animals
  • Animals and Natural Rights
  • Contractualism and Animals
  • Virtue Ethics
  • Care Ethics
  • Capabilities Approach
  • Kantianism and Animals
  • Animal Rights and Political Theory
  • Animal Minds
  • Animals as Persons
  • Animals and Moral Behavior
  • Animals in the Continental Tradition
  • Against Animal Rights

Philosophy Animal Rights
Mark Rowlands
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0124


The expression “animal rights” is employed in two different ways: one broad, the other narrow. When employed in the broad sense—animal rights with a small “r”—the claim that animals possess rights is used as a way of asserting that animals have moral standing: that they are morally considerable, the legitimate objects of moral concern. Even moral theories that are officially hostile to the concept of rights can accept that animals have rights in this sense. Thus, Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, described the idea of rights as “nonsense” but nevertheless argued that animals possess moral standing. And although subsequent utilitarians have generally inherited this antipathy toward the concept of rights, it was utilitarianism that underpinned Peter Singer’s (Singer 1975, cited under Introductory Works, the Basic Argument, and Utilitarianism and Animals) seminal defense of the moral claims of animals. Thus, Singer, certainly in the minds of the general public, is associated with the idea of animal rights even though the moral theory he deploys is officially hostile to the concept of rights. The broad sense of animal rights is, therefore, a very loose sense, and the area of inquiry might instead be labeled “animal ethics.” In a stronger sense—animal rights with a capital “R”—the claim that animals possess rights is restricted to specific moral theories that endorse both the moral claims of animals and the apparatus of moral rights. In particular, the claim is strongly associated with the deontological framework developed by Tom Regan (see Animals and Natural Rights), and also with certain contractualist approaches to understanding the rights of animals (see Contractualism and Animals). This bibliography encompasses animal rights in the broad sense of animal ethics. It focuses on theoretical developments in animal ethics. Tracing the practical implications of each theory or tradition for issues such animal husbandry, experimentation, hunting and other blood sports, zoos, the keeping of pets, and so on has proved to be not only important in its own right but also a significant component in the overall theoretical elaboration of each tradition. Practical work is cited, and practical issues discussed, only to the extent they have impact on the theoretical frameworks.

Introductory Works

There are numerous introductions to animal ethics. These may vary in their level of theoretical commitment or orientation. For example, Rowlands 2002 develops its case from a broadly contractualist perspective. The argument of Rachels 1999 is developed in the context of evolutionary theory. Francione 2000, however, bases its case on inconsistencies in our commonsense attitudes toward animals. The works below are classified as introductions because they deal with the issue of animal ethics in a general way and are written for those with no prior acquaintance with this topic. DeGrazia 2002 and Taylor 2003 are very good examples of this genre, and even though Peter Singer’s position (Singer 1975) is officially utilitarian, this plays no overt or essential role in the development of his arguments. Garner 2005 is a well-written and useful overview of the various positions that fall under the animal rights rubric.

  • DeGrazia, David. Animal Rights: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    It does what it says on the cover: it provides a lucid, well-written, and very short introduction to the idea of animal rights.

  • Francione, Gary. Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.

    This introduction, from the leading proponent of the “leave them alone” stance, takes as its point of departure the inconsistencies in our moral attitudes about animals and builds an argument on that basis.

  • Garner, Robert. Animal Ethics. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2005.

    A useful guide to the current state of play in the animal rights debate. Garner writes clearly, identifies the major issues, and makes some interesting suggestions about how to think about them.

  • Rachels, James. Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    Lucid and well-argued case for animal rights grounded in evolutionary theory. Human moral exceptionalism is incompatible with evolutionary theory.

  • Rowlands, Mark. Animals Like Us. London: Verso, 2002.

    A combination of moral theory (of a broadly contractualist orientation) and a detailed discussion of practical issues, including using animals for food, experimenting on animals, hunting, companion animals, and zoos. There is also a discussion of the harm of death as it applies to humans and animals.

  • Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. New York: New York Review of Books and Random House, 1975.

    This book (arguably) initiated the contemporary discussion of the moral claims of animals and is still essential reading after all these years. In this book, Singer’s utilitarianism is sufficiently submerged to make this a general introduction to thinking about animals in a moral way. Discusses the ethics of eating animals and experimenting on them in lucid and compelling language.

  • Taylor, Angus. Animals and Ethics: An Overview of the Philosophical Debate. Peterborough, Canada: Broadview, 2003.

    Taylor traces the animal rights debate back to its roots in Aristotle and Darwin, and carefully examines the relevant contemporary theories.

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