The first question we ask ourselves when discussing animals in testing is a philosophical one: "Why should we care about them?" Three reasons become apparent. First, this research
relates to the safety of our food, medicine, and environment, thus concern for the integrity of the process is in order, and animals are part of that process.1Second, it is estimated that between 50 to 100 million vertebrate animals are killed in research each year.2Others suggest this is a significant understatement.3In order to continue, we should be convinced that this research is warranted and conducted properly, as death on this scale implicates our moral philosophy. And finally, what we do to animals who have no voice reflects on us and our societies.
The next question is a scientific one: "Is this good and productive science?" The current scientific assessment of toxicity testing from the United States National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences is that animal testing:
· Is too expensive and time consuming;
· Does not yield good enough results or even a sufficient quantity of results; and
· Kills millions of animals a year without requiring the use of alternatives where they exist, or an exploration of where they might be possible. 4
The ultimate question we consider regarding research on animals is, "Is it right to experiment on animals, and if so, under what conditions?" In order to address that question we need to understand the legal and moral standing of animals in society. Animals are currently conceived of as property in every country on the planet, available for any use humans deem appropriate.5
How did this come to be? And how do we assess the outcome of this conception from a modern philosophical and legal perspective?
To understand our current perspective on animals in society, it is useful to look back through history. Originally, religious and philosophical thought framed our understanding of animals and delineated human relationship and moral responsibilities toward them. Subsequently, science has played an increasingly important role in this dialogue.
Beginning with a short history of religious thought, we see that some of the earliest religious traditions explicitly addressed our relationship with animals. Though it is hard to be certain when any religion began, it is clear that some of our oldest religious traditions grappled with questions about the human-animal relationship.
The Jain6and Buddhist7traditions have in common a deep respect for animals and a belief that animals and humans are part of the same family. Indeed, their belief in reincarnation suggests that humans may have been, or yet become, animals in another life.8Given this perspective, it is easy to understand the respect and significant protection animals are afforded under these traditions. Jains and Buddhists urge humans not to eat animals, or to use them for clothing, work, or entertainment. And they urge humans to have compassion, and to take responsibility, for the welfare of animals.
Some scholars think that the Buddhists and Jains developed in part as a response to the religious practices of their time, including that of the Hindus, a religion that developed from the older Vedic religion.9The Hindus both worshiped animals and sacrificed them, making it difficult to identify a single clear philosophy with respect to animals. Rather, it is more indicative of the ambivalence we continue to experience with regard to this question.
Several ancient religious traditions seek to place humans in harmony with nature and animals, rather than as masters over them. One example is Taoism. This tradition does not divide animals from the environment in which both they and humans live. This is similar to many of the Native American religious traditions, which sanctioned killing animals only when it was deemed necessary for human needs. A more holistic approach to human relationships with animals results from these traditions, while they maintain the role of the human as the primary decision-maker in the relationship.
In contrast with these traditions are the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic faiths. In these religious traditions, animals are deemed to have been explicitly created for use by humans, thus granting humans the right to use animals in any way they deem appropriate, with some obligations to treat them well and avoid unnecessary pain or suffering in certain circumstances. Animals in these traditions fall under the complete control of humans. Many, though not all, of the directives to treat animals humanely are for the preservation of the human soul or well being, rather than deriving solely from concern for the welfare of the animals themselves.10No religious tradition is completely homogenous. For instance, some scholars believe that the Essenes, a Jewish sect, were strict vegetarians,11eschewing animal sacrifice and eating the flesh of animals, in keeping with their interpretation of religious practice.12This would have been a significant departure from Jewish tradition at the time.13There is some split in the Catholic tradition as well, with Thomas Aquinas describing the accepted wisdom that animals are for man’s use14, while Francis of Assisi urged the development of a more compassionate and caring relationship with animals rather than dominion over them.15We can see that to some degree, attitudes towards animals as reflected in modern laws, evolved from these diverse religious traditions. And what do we learn from ancient secular teachings? Some of the ancient wisdom revered by the western world comes from individuals who scholars believe were vegetarian, including: Pythagorus, Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and Plutarch.16
What accounts for this strong representation of vegetarianism in a pantheistic society that did not specifically endorse those principles? It could be because the temples of certain gods were thought to be desecrated by meat and blood, and by those who ate animals. Thus, a Greek or Roman citizen devoted to a certain god might choose a lifestyle desired by that god.
However, there is also a very interesting concept identified in ancient Greek writing called the Golden Age myth. This concept describes a time in pre-history in which everyone was a strict vegetarian, there were no wars, and society was matriarchal. The Greeks lamented the loss of this golden era, and some strove for its return. Whether this Golden Age is a myth or a reality is not as interesting as the fact that a society believed:
· That it did exist,
· That such a lifestyle was possible, and
· That living in harmony with animals was considered an element of an ideal society.
Just as we lost touch with this Golden Age, so too did some of our more modern philosophers leave behind the concept that animals were sentient and entitled to any, much less full, moral consideration. In the western world, the work of René Descartes embodies this perspective perhaps better than that of any other philosopher.17Descartes wrote that animals are machines, and as such, can be disassembled without concern for an adverse reaction.18Though significantly well accepted, this theory of Descartes was not universally adopted.
Other philosophers responded differently to the questions of what duties humans owe animals and how to define the appropriate treatment of animals. François Marie Arouet de Voltaire wrote that animals have souls, feeling, and understanding.19Acceptance of this perspective gives rise to human responsibilities. Immanuel Kant explained that duties toward animals are duties to humankind, raising the concern that poor treatment of animals was bad for the human being and thus cruelty to animals was appropriate only when justified.20
He used vivisection as an example of justified cruel treatment.
Charles Darwin took a different, scientific, approach and wrote that there is no fundamental difference between man and higher mammals in their mental faculties, that in fact humans are animals, and that non-human animals can reason.21Many
philosophers of his day felt that only those beings who could reason were deserving of moral consideration. Therefore, acceptance of Darwin’s theories resulted in corresponding moral obligations toward at least some animals based on their perceived capacity to reason.22However, Jeremy Bentham wrote that the important question was not whether animals could reason, but whether they could suffer.23He believed that any being who could suffer should not be made to do so unnecessarily.24
Following in Bentham’s philosophical footsteps are a number of vegetarian philosophers who believed that they had no moral authority to put animals to their own use. They include, Leo Tolstoi, whose vegetarian ideals related to his pacifism25;
Mohandas Gandhi who wrote about the connections between vegetarianism, peaceful resistance, and the power of the truth force26; Albert Schweitzer who wrote of the need for an ethic of reverence for life27; and Henry Salt who wrote a book entitled Animal Rights in 1892, positing that animals had rights of their own and for their own sakes.28
More recently, philosophers and legal scholars have picked up on Salt’s proposition and begun to analyze what rights and protections are due to animals, rather than focusing solely on what elements in animals, such as the ability to reason or feel pain, might provide the basis for moral consideration. These philosophers include:
· Peter Singer who authored Animal Liberation29;
· Tom Regan who authored Philosophy of Animal Rights;
· Francis Moore Lappé, author of · Diet for a Small Planet30;
· Carol Adams who authored The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory31;
· Steve Wise, author of · Drawing the Line, 32Rattling the Cage,33and An American Trilogy34;
· Gary Francione who authored · Animals, Property and the Law35, and Rain Without Thunder36; and