University of Wisconsin–Madison

AHA’s Take On: Animal Rights

Last time at AHA: we discussed the thorny issue of animal rights.  Below, you’ll find a summary of the thoughts, opinions, and commentary provided by our members.

Icebreaker: What’s your favorite animal?
Cutest Answer: The Dikdik


  • A new species of animal is discovered. They are unintelligent and completely “animalistic,” and they have delicious, nutritious meat. However, they look exactly like humans. Would you eat them?
    • Sure, but I’d rather not hunt them.
    • Yes, but only if they look like regular meat when prepared for food.
    • No, that’s too gross.
    • Yes, “intelligence” is the key, and it would be moral to eat them as long as they have mental capacities similar to something like chickens.
  • Would it be moral for a super-intelligent alien species to eat us? 
    • Yes, if they’re so far advanced that we seem primitive by comparison.
    • No, they can recognize that we have pain and feelings.
    • Yes, if they somehow need to consume us for their own survival.
    • No, such an species would recognize and respect our level of consciousness.
  • What determines the value of an animal?
    • We do, but there is no objective basis to decide.
    • Hard to determine.  Some animals viewed as more valuable than others, all are considered to be less important than humans.
    • We judge selfishly, based on what we can gain from the animal.
    • Consciousness should be the standard.
  • What separates us from other animals?  Consciousness?
    • Consciousness requires an advanced nervous system, which some animals don’t have.
    • Self awareness is a gradient dependent on many factors, it’s hard to draw a clear line defining when consciousness begins.
    • Across the entire animal kingdom, animals have the capacity to feel pain and display emotions – ranging from joy to depression.
    • Some animals react to pain on an instinctual level just to avoid it, “suffering” is a higher level of understanding of  that pain.
    • There is a wide range of complexity in animal nervous systems, we don’t need to worry about oysters feeling pain.
    • If we’re going to eat meat, reducing unnecessary suffering of those animals is a worthy goal.
  • Is it moral to raise and slaughter animals for our consumption?
    • Yes, animals living in the wild would suffer and die without our intervention anyway.
    • No, there are horrible conditions at factory farms, animals should not have to suffer for their entire lives.
    • Yes, free range alternatives exist, which reduce animal suffering.
    • No, animals should not be kept on farms, they have the right to experience and enjoy the environments they evolved to exist in.
    • Yes, I really like meat.
    • No, vegan diets can feed more people and meat production is environmentally destructive.
    • Yes, every convenience of modern life is bad for the environment, all we can do is try our best.
    • No, it’s too dangerous, the overuse of antibiotics in animals is leading to resistant bacteria.
    • Yes, but we need to enforce regulations and reform the industry to be more humane.
  • Is animal testing for medical research ethically justifiable? 
    • Yes, reducing suffering of all humans in the future justifies temporary suffering of animals today. 
    • No, experiments often don’t work out, so the benefits are too uncertain.
    • Yes, the only alternative is to test on humans, which is far more morally problematic.
    • No, we should be using synthetic alternatives instead of animals.
    • Yes, scientists must follow extensive regulations, and are heavily scrutinized by ethical review boards and funding agencies to ensure animals are treated humanely.
    • Yes, we have all benefited from advances in modern medicine (drugs, vaccines, surgeries, etc.) which could only have been developed via an animal testing stage.      

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