Animal ethics and human rights

Daniel Romero Campoy

People usually argue that animal`s rights recognition would be an attack on human rights. It happens because of three main points: anthropocentrism, speciesism and a misconception of rights. In this brief article I try to explain these arguments. This text is indeed a very short introduction on this issue. I hope the reader feels like wanting to read more about it from these lines. 


Moral anthropocentrism is the belief that human beings are the most important entity. Indeed, there are two approaches. On the one hand, a Kantian ethics holds only Humans and relevant on a moral point of view, because of their autonomy (rational choices) and dignity. So Humans do not have direct duties towards non-human animals. To make animals suffer is not bad in essence but this could come to deteriorate our character respect for other Humans or Humanity. On the other hand, weak anthropocentrism holds we must consider value to nature and other animals too. From this approach, animals matter because they have the capacity to feel pain and pleasure. But their life is not a big issue if they die without suffer. This is called sentiocentrism. This ethics is followed by the animal welfare policies of many countries, including the European Union. However, a weak biocentrism approach maintains that non-human animals have an important moral status because they have subjective experiences, that is, the capacity for consciousness. Of course, not all animals have this capacity. To have it, it`s necessary to possess a central nervous system, that`s why this question is not closed. The capacity of being affected positively or negatively as a subject being is called sentience.  So, once the capacity of feeling suffering or enjoyment is not the only important thing, the life of sentience animals is a big issue. Consequently, we should not kill animals. In addition, Humans can be healthy without consuming any animal products. The British Dietetic Association ( and the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics( supports this given scientific evidence, for instance. Veganism is consistent with this idea since it «is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude -as far as is possible and practicable- all forms of exploration and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose» (VeganSociety). So why do we keep eating animals? Maybe because of speciesism.


Some words are especially worthy in order to describe a hidden reality. Although controversial, one of them is speciesism. Richard Ryder coined this term, but Peter Singer  popularized it. We could define speciesism as the prejudice or discrimination (unjustified differential) based on the species. So, this attitude prioritizes the interests of members of a certain animal species over other ones. It is a belief that considers that dogs deserve greater moral consideration than pigs or cows, in spite of all of them are sentience beings. Even they have similar intelligence and social needs. In the field of human rights we argue a lot about compassion, solidarity, vulnerability, domination or oppression. Why not about non-human animals? Because our anthropocentrism criteria block the moral value of other animals. This issue is complex and required a proper explanation, but in summary we believe in a moral criteria which is impartial and arbitrary. Obviously, there are many ways to argue in favor of this moral approach, but I am going to select the two most important ones: 1) humans have special capacities as rationality or dignity, 2) humans have special relations each other to reach pacts or social contracts on how to live in society. On this matter both of them would leave out of moral sphere some people with mental disabilities and human babies. The goal of this article is not to expand on this question, however we could use two important arguments to reject the specisms ones, namely, the argument from species overlap and the argument from relevance, as philosopher Oscar Horta explains very well in some articles (


It is a fact that Law is a mechanism of reinforcement of social habits that maintains the dominance and exploitation for rest of animals. The change of animalist paradigm lies on the rejection of the privileges of certain moral subjects respect to others. Many discriminatory arguments support these privileges over oppressed beings, as we see in relation to feminism, anti-racism or the abolition of slavery. In this point, let’s briefly examine the difference between privileges and rights. 

Rights are based on legitimate claims, whereas privilege is defined as the exemption from an obligation that is granted in an unjustified manner. Also, privilege would be an unfair advantage, a benefit without an acceptable reason. According to this, the exercise of domination and oppression cannot assume rights. Moreover, to use freedom as an example, even John Stuart Mill -illustrious liberal philosopher- did not hold an unconditional freedom: “the only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it”. In other words, recognizing non-human animals as non-appropriable does not mean violating the right to property, just as stopping eating animal meat does not break the right to health.


In short, it is urgent to accept the moral status of sentient beings of some animals. For that we must give up our prejudices and arbitrary arguments about it. If we recognize animal rights -as rights to life, integrity and liberty, with clarifications as in human rights-, this does not involve any break to human rights. Because rights are weighted in the case of conflict. To end, if the reader is interesting in this particular issue, I recommend this article I wrote: “Cultural pluralism and the animal question: three cases of conflict”   ( )


Animal Ethics, “Sentience”.

Animal Ethics, “Arguments against speciesism”.

Melina, V.; Craig, W.; and Levin, S. “Position of the Academy of Nutrution and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets”.

Mill, J. S. On liberty. Project Gutenberg.

The British Dietetic Association, “Vegetarian, vegan and plant-based diet: Food Fact Sheet”, 01 jul 2021.

Vegan Society. “Definition of Veganism”.