I have been described, rather disparagingly, as ‘one of those animal rights people.’ The phrase ‘animal rights’ seems to have gone out of fashion, sometimes replaced with ‘animal welfare’ as though to see non-human animals as having rights at all is ridiculous -the strange, non-conformist philosophy of crazed left wing hippies. The theme of whether animals do or should have rights is explored in this book, written as part of the All That Matters series, which aims to bring all manner of different subjects to new readers. They’re written by top authorities in each field – Mark Rowlands is a professor of philosophy specialising in animal rights.
The book is divided into sections looking at situations we encounter in everyday life where animal rights need to be considered. The author makes the argument that animals count in a moral sense and goes on to explain why this is. For those of us who are vegans for ethical reasons, this seems a no-brainer, but it needs explaining to those who, through societal conditioning, have come to believe that they don’t. The chapter on using animals for meat explains how doing the ultimate harm to an animal (killing them) can’t be morally justified because we don’t need to eat them. Again, for ethical vegans, this seems obvious, but it is refreshing to have an academic philosopher put forward this reasoning.
Other chapters cover the meat industry, animal research, hunting, blood sports and other sports involving animals. Some of the less discussed areas of animal rights are covered here too, such as the morality of having companion animals, how we should treat wildlife, how to approach conservation and the relevance of zoos. The tone of the book is calm, logical and even humorous at times. Rowlands has a likeable voice and I can’t help thinking that this would be a great book to give to a friend or family member who is struggling with your philosophy of life. In no way does he come across as an extremist, a kook, or overly emotional, although he takes a moral stance that most find tricky to deal with.
He forces the reader to take a long look at why we behave the way we do and why we believe the things we do. There’s also great boxed text and quotes from famous philosophers, vegetarians and academics that can sum things up pretty succinctly. Here’s one of my favourites from C.S Lewis: ‘If we cut up beasts simply because they cannot prevent us and because we are backing up our own side in the struggle for existence, it is only logical to cut up imbeciles, criminals, enemies or capitalists for the same reason.’
Each subject is fully explored and provides alternative suggestions for behaviour that would be morally preferable. The FAQs cover a few enquiries we get as vegans, so there are some good discussion points. There’s a list of one hundred ideas at the back too, giving resources and examples of what you can do to help the cause. If everyone read this book and took on its philosophy, I think it might well make the world a better place.