Animal Rights

By Benjamin Schwarz

December 2000 ATLANTIC


Introduction to Animal Rights, by Gary L. Francione (Temple)

Although the notion of animal “rights” is often pooh-poohed as mushy and sentimental, this cleanly written, clearly argued book demonstrates that much of this criticism is itself the product of sloppy thinking, which permits what Gary L. Francione calls our “brute preferences” to determine our morality. Francione, probably the leading legal scholar in the field, builds his case on Jeremy Bentham’s compelling argument that in considering the protection offered to animals, “The question is not, Can theyreason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” Francione argues that by “degrading animals into a class ofthings” (as Bentham wrote), we perforce permit the most horrific things to be done to them. Indeed, the book amounts to an indictment of humanity, which “bring[s] billions of sentient animals into the world for the sole purpose of killing them” and which consigns the overwhelming majority of its most favored creatures, dogs, to a life of pain, fear, and loneliness. We are willing, Francione points out, to ignore animals’ suffering “whenever we benefit from doing so — even when the benefit is nothing more than our pleasure or convenience.” This book is all the more disturbing by virtue of its cool reasoning and absence of rhetoric.

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