Animal welfare is the viewpoint that some or all animals, especially those under human care, should be treated in such a way that they do not suffer unnecessarily. This position places some ethical value on the life of animals, while being weaker than animal rights.

Animal Welfare compared with Animal RightsEdit

Many animal rights and animal welfare advocates make a clear distinction between the two philosophies. To argue for animal rights, one needs a general meta-ethical outlook that is based on rights. To argue for animal welfare, one can be a consequentialist. Tom Regan argues for animal rights, while the utilitarian Peter Singer argues for animal welfare.

Most animal welfarists argue that the animal rights view goes too far, and do not advocate the elimination of all animal use or companionship. Animal rights advocates, such as Gary L. Francione, argue that the animal welfare position (advocating for the betterment of the condition of animals, but without abolishing animal use: see veganism) is logically inconsistent and ethically unacceptable. However, there are some animal rights groups, such as PETA, which support animal welfare measures in the short term to alleviate animal suffering until all animal use is ended.

Canadian ethicist David Sztybel distinguishes six different types of animal welfare views:

  • animal exploiters' animal welfare: the reassurance from those who use animals that they already treat animals well
  • commonsense animal welfare: the average person's concern to avoid cruelty and be kind to animals
  • humane animal welfare: a more principled opposition to cruelty to animals, which does not reject most animal-using practices (except perhaps the use of animals for fur and sport)
  • animal liberationist animal welfare: a philosophy championed by Peter Singer, which strives to minimize suffering but accepts some animal use for the greater good, such as the use of animals in some medical research
  • new welfarism: a term coined by Gary Francione to refer to the belief that measures to improve the lot of animals used by humans will lead to the abolition of animal use
  • animal welfare/animal rights views which do not distinguish the two

Other views of animal welfare exist which are not included in David Sztybel's list.

Animal welfare principles are codified by positive law in many nations, but animal rights are recognized in none.

Criticisms of animal welfareEdit

At one time, many people denied that animals could feel anything, and thus had no interests. Many Cartesians were of this opinion, though Cottingham has argued that Descartes himself did not hold such a view. This kind of view may also have been held by some behaviourists, but there is a logical problem involved in going from: 'there is no scientific evidence that the rats in my lab are suffering' to 'the rats in my lab are not suffering', particularly as the behaviourist idea of what constitutes scientific evidence makes settling issues concerning suffering impossible.

More recent critiques have used arguments inspired by Wittgenstein to argue that some kinds of suffering and joy are only available to language users. Only humans, and tendentiously, chimpanzees, have sufficient linguistic capability.

See alsoEdit


  • John Cottingham, '"A Brute to the Brutes?" Descartes' Treatment of Animals' Philosophy 53 1978, pp. 551-559
  • Michael Leahy, Against Liberation - Putting Animals in Perspective Routledge 1991
  • Peter Singer, Animal Liberation

External linksEdit

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