As is true of so many social phenomena in the United States, the animal rights movement appeared to most Americans to develop out of thin air in the 1980s. As is also true of most social phenomena in the country, however, the animal rights movement is not new. Animal protection organizations have existed in the United States for more than 100 years (Alperson, 1988), and they have even earlier origins in England the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in 1824 (Zak, 1989).
The level of activism and the tactics employed in the pursuit of animal rights in the late1980s, however, do represent changes (Holden, 1989; Zak, 1989). Both sides in the controversy demand moderation in the behavior of the parties in the opposing camp, and each side demands new laws to deal with either the protection of animals, or the protection of those who use (or abuse) animals (Alperson, 1988; Cowley, 1988; Jansy, 1988; Zak, 1989).
This current research examines the concept of animal rights in the context of law and utilitarianism. Specifically, this research attempts to determine what actions a law based upon utilitarian philosophy would deem to be acceptable and unacceptable with respect to the use and treatment of animals. In pursuing this goal, it is necessary to examine (1) utilitarian philosophy, and its relation to law, and (2) the concept of animal rights, before attempting to relate the two. The utilitarian philosophy and its relation to law in examined in the following section, and the concept of animal rights is then considered. The attempt to determine what actions a law based upon utilitarian philosophy would deem to be acceptable and unacceptable with respect to the use and treatment of animals is dealt with in the concluding section.
In quite general terms, utilitarian philosophy evaluates the acceptability of actions in the context of their outcomes (Sidgwick, 1946). Thus, an evaluation of an...