In an interview with the podcast Philosophy Bites on the topic of animal rights, Rutgers School of Law–Newark Professor Gary L. Francione laid out the stark distinction between the abolitionist theory of animal rights and what he regards as the misguided welfarist approach.
The animal welfare movement holds that it’s morally acceptable to use and kill animals as long as they are treated humanely. “Humane treatment,” said Francione, “is a fantasy on an epistemological par with Santa Claus.”
The abolitionist approach developed by Francione contends that as long as animals are considered “chattel property” with no intrinsic value, animal ethics remains stuck in a 200-year-old paradigm that perpetuates animal exploitation. A foundational principle of the abolitionist approach is that animals, like humans, are sentient beings and, as it would be for humans, to use animals as a resource, which inevitably involves some distress or suffering, is morally unjustified. “If you care about animals, you don’t eat them, wear them or use them,” Francione said. And if you make that decision, then the only choice is to “go vegan.”
In the interview Francione decried the continuing influence of Jeremy Bentham, one of the first philosophers to discuss and advocate for animal rights. The flaw in Bentham’s approach, said Francione, is that while he did not condone animal abuse, Bentham justified humans’ use of animals for their own purposes. That viewpoint has been embraced as the norm for the past 200 years, making it difficult to advance the abolitionist approach.
Professor Francione was particularly critical of the modern animal welfare movement’s embrace of such concepts as “compassionate consumption” and “free range.” Such attempts at regulating animal exploitation only make animal use more economically efficient, he said and do nothing to change the status of animals.
The podcast series Philosophy Bites, which is supported by the Institute of Philosophy, features top philosophers talking about “bite-sized topics.” Francione, who carries the title Distinguished Professor of Law and Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Scholar of Law and Philosophy, received a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Rochester and an M.A. in philosophy and J.D. from the University of Virginia.
Professor Francione has been teaching animal rights theory and the law for more than 25 years and was the first to teach animal rights theory in an American law school. He is the author of numerous books and articles on animals and the law, including most recently The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition or Regulation? published by Columbia University Press.