Have Animals Rights?
by Henry S. Salt
It has been said that humanitarians have “an acquired incapacity for distinguishing between men and beast”; but, as a matter of fact, instead of confusing men with other animals, we have often made objection to that popular method of describing animal life which consists in attributing to animals (as in Gay’s “Fables,” for example, or even, to take a modem instance, in Kipling’s “Jungle Book”) a number of quasi-human qualities, and making them “perform,” so to speak, in human guise to tickle human vanity. We hold rather that animal life, to be really understood, will have to be studied, by sympathy, from within, and for its own sake, as Thoreau has remarked in a suggestive passage of his diaries:—
“How little we know of the inner life of animals! How few our facts are, and how little certain we are of them! What a huge book, and what an intensely interesting one, is waiting to be written on this subject by some great genius of the future! Surely it tells not a little for the in-curiosity and perhaps for the conceit of us humans that we have been taken up so entirely with our little selves for these many thousand years past. . . . and all the time we have been acting as if we were alone in the world, and as if it were not inhabited by crowds of beings with ways towards us and towards each other which, seeing how much we depend upon the same animals, it behoves us most strongly to understand.”
Humanitarians, then, are subject to no “incapacity,” natural or acquired, for distinguishing between the human and the non-human races as far as degree is concerned; it is admitted on all hands that there is a great difference of degree between the human and the animal intelligence. But if we are asked to recognise a distinction not of degree but of kind, then we freely own to the incapacity aforesaid, an incapacity which, if it is not innate in us, may certainly have been “acquired” by study and observation.
Now to come to the point at once, we hold that all this talk about the difference, in kind, between men and animals, as if between persons and mere things, is thoroughly wrong and mistaken whether as ethics or science. Even the expression “man and the animals,” though unavoidable in common parlance, is, strictly regarded, an absurdity; for in truth there is no such antithesis, and we ought rather to speak of “man and the other animals,” since Man, for all his prerogatives, is himself but a part of the great Animal Kingdom, and can no more disown the relationship than can the meanest of his fellow-beings. This is a fact which is fully recognized and admitted in modern scientific works, as in the following passage by a very able writer:
“The last great excursus of sympathy which has characterized the English Aryans—one dating its beginning to this century—is that relating to the rights of our domesticated animals. This has come about, like other movements, in a way unconsciously. Prophetic spirits have seen beyond the vision of their fellows; they have given their messages, which have found an echo in the souls of men. The motive originated in the recognition of the essential likeness of the minds of the lower animals to our own. But it has been greatly reinforced by the teachings of the naturalists to the effect that all the life of this sphere is akin in its origin, and that our subjects are not very far away from our own ancestral line.”
See, also, Mr. E. P. Evans’s very interesting work on “Evolution Ethics and Animal Psychology,” where he combats the anthropocentric delusions which treat man as on a separate basis from other sentient beings. “Man,” he says “is as truly a part and product of Nature as any other animal, and this attempt to set him up as an isolated point outside of it is philosophically false and morally pernicious.”
So, too, Mr. Frederic Harrison in his essay on “The Ethical View” of Animals’ Rights:
“I regard man’s morality towards the lower animals to be a vital and indeed fundamental part of his morality towards his fellow-men. I refuse to treat it as an extra, an appendix, or finishing touch superadded to our ethical creed. I do so, because I do not know what Ethics can mean, if it be not the due ordering of our own complex nature (a large and indispensable part of which is animal) towards the vast organic world in which we find ourselves. Of that organic world the animal kingdom is the predominant part, as Man is only the predominant member of the animal kingdom. That is, Man does not differ from animals in the same way that animals differ from vegetables, or vegetables differ from minerals or rocks. Zoölogically speaking, he is classed among Primates, as one of the highest order of mammals. His physical, moral, intellectual, and therefore his spiritual nature does not organically differ in kind from those of the highest mammals. It differs only in degree, and by a vast hereditary and secular evolution. And it does not differ in degree—absolutely and invariably.”
We hold, then, that to draw an absolute line of demarcation between men, as “persons” and “ends,” and animals as “mere means,” is a thoroughly unsound basis for any ethical structure, inasmuch as the more highly organized animals possess, like men, though, of course, in a minor degree, the qualities of a true personality. “The senses and intuitions,” says Darwin, “the various emotions and faculties, such as love, memory, attention, curiosity, imitation, reason, etc., of which man boasts, may be found in an incipient, or even sometimes in a well-developed, condition in the lower animals. The attempt to hedge off the animals from mankind on the plea that they do not “reason” is equally futile. Note, for example, the following passage in Dr. Wesley Mills’s suggestive book on “The Nature and Development of Animal Intelligence” (1898):
“The trend of investigation thus far goes to show that at least the germ of every human faculty does exist in some species of animal. . . . Formerly the line was drawn at reason. It was said that the brutes cannot reason. Only persons who do not themselves reason about the subject, with the facts before them, can any longer occupy such a position. The evidence of reasoning power is overwhelming for the upper ranks of animals, and yearly the downward limits are being extended the more the inferior tribes are studied.”
Nor is it true that the worth of an animal’s life, any more than of a man’s, can be measured simply by the amount of “agreeable sensation,” a fallacy often put forward by those who cage animals in menageries on the plea that they are there well tended and saved from the struggle for existence. To live one’s own natural life, to realise oneself, is the true moral purpose of man and animal equally, and the wrong done by the unnecessary cramping and thwarting of animal individuality, as in the turning of an active intelligent being into a prisoner or pet, cannot really be compensated by the gift of any material “comforts.” Compare the life of the wild bison with that of the stall-fed ox, or that of the sheep-dog with the pampered pug, and the moral can hardly be overlooked. An animal has his proper work to do in the world, his own life to live, as surely as a man; and those who scoff at this idea, and deny individuality to animals, should remember that there was a time, under the Greek and Roman civilization, when it was held to be doubtful whether a slave, in like manner, had any claim to be regarded as a person. “Neither can men,” says Aristotle, “have friendships with horses, cattle, or slaves, considered merely as such; for a slave is merely a living instrument, and an instrument a lifeless slave. Yet, considered as a man, a slave may be an object of friendship.” “Slaves,” says Bentham, “have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing as in England, for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day may come when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which could never have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny.”
The mention of “rights” brings us to the core of our subject. We claim for animals, as for men, in so far as it is compatible with the public welfare, a measure of individuality and freedom, a space in which to live their own lives—in a word, rights. Into the interminable field of discussion as to the fitness of this term I do not propose to enter, because my purpose is not an academic but a practical one, and in the redressing of social injustice Action cannot for ever wait for the good pleasure of Logic. It may be that, from a strictly logical point of view, there are no such things as “rights,” in which case it is obvious that we cannot claim for animals what is denied to men; but if, as is usually conceded, there are rights of men, then we assert there are also, in due degree, rights of animals also. “Every man,” says Herbert Spencer in his “Justice,” “is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal liberty of any other man"; and again, “Whoever admits that each man must have a certain restricted freedom, asserts that it is right he should have this restricted freedom. . . . and hence the several particular freedoms deducible may fitly be called, as they commonly are called, his rights.” The essential part of my contention is that in this matter there is no absolute difference, no impassable gulf, between mankind and “the animals.” If man has reason, animals have the germ of reason. If man has rights, animals have the same—in kind.
On the other hand, if objection be taken to the use of the word “rights,” whether of men or of animals, it is open to us to consider the question from another side, and to arrive at the same result by a different process—viz., by the way of “duties.” Duties and rights, as Mr. G. W. Foote has pointed out in an admirable essay on “The Kinship of Life,” are in reality correlative. “A right is really a duty that some one owes to me, and a duty is a right that I owe to another; they are like the two halves of a pair of scissors, inoperative and unintelligible except in relation to each other.” But if it be a satisfaction to anyone to express it in this manner, and to say that men have duties towards animals, rather than that animals possess rights, I do not know that the difference is worth quarrelling over—provided always that the duties be acknowledged to be real and direct ones, a subject to which I will presently recur. In using the word “rights,” therefore, we must premise that we do so, not because it is essential to our argument, but because it appears to be on the whole the best term available, and most expressive of what I have in mind. If a more suitable name can be found, we are quite ready to adopt it.
Like all other humanitarian doctrines, the claim of “rights” for animals dates from the great revolutionary upheaval of a century back, though anticipations of such an idea may be traced in the Buddhist and Pythagorean canons, with their maxim of “not to kill or injure any innocent animal,” and in the humane philosophers of the later Roman civilisation, such as Seneca, Plutarch, and Porphyry.” Since justice is due to rational beings,” said the last named, “how is it possible to evade the admission that we are bound also to act justly towards the races beneath us?” But it was not till the close of the eighteenth century that these principles began to be regarded as inherent in the creed of democracy; and even then, when such books as “The Rights of Man” and “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” were being fiercely discussed, so absurd did the new theories seem to many minds, and so incredible the notion of “mere animals” being ever included in the charter, that by way of satirising the rights of men and the rights of women an anonymous volume was published in 1892, entitled “A Vindication of the Rights of Brutes,” in which the opinion was expressed that “after those wonderful productions of Mr. Paine and Mrs. Wollstonecraft such a theory as the present seems to be necessary.”
There was more truth in that ironical suggestion than its author supposed; indeed, the pioneers of modern humanitarianism were already asserting that even animals have rights. “Why,” asked Jeremy Bentham, “should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being? The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes. We have begun by attending to the condition of slaves; we shall finish by softening that of all the animals which assist our labours or supply our wants.” A like opinion was expressed in 1796 by John Lawrence, author of “A Philosophical Treatise on the Moral Duties of Man Toward the Brute Creation”: “No human government, I believe has ever recognized the jus animalium, which ought surely to form a part of the jurisprudence of every system founded on the principles of justice and humanity.” Nor was it long before this claim was in some measure realized, for in spite of the mockery with which the proposal was at first greeted in Parliament, the year 1822 saw the passing of “Martin’s Act,” the earliest legal prohibition of cruelty to animals; and the protection thus given to cattle and “beasts of burden” was gradually extended to all animals that the law recognised as “domestic.” Wretchedly inadequate as this was (and still is), we see in it at least a partial establishment of the principle of rights.
But what kind of rights? it will be asked; for it is plain that animals cannot possess legal rights in the full sense in which citizens possess them—that is, rights that the injured party can himself enforce in the law-courts. Even we humanitarians, for all our “incapacity for distinguishing between men and beasts,” do not advise the ill-used cab-horse to take out a summons in propria persona against the guilty driver; that is a function which must be performed by the benevolent agency of mankind. Are we to say, then, that the rights of animals are solely of the moral order? I think not, seeing that we have an actual legislative assertion that certain kinds of animals are not the mere property of their owners—that “cattle” are not mere “chattels,” in short—but sentient creatures whom the State is pledged to defend from wanton harm, just as it defends those human beings who cannot protect themselves.
It is argued, however, that such protection does not imply rights on the part of the animal protected. “Because a work of art or some ancient monument,” says Professor Ritchie in his book on “Natural Rights,” “is protected by law from injury, do we speak of the rights of pictures or stones?” But here the logic of the Professor of Logic was sadly at fault, for he has overlooked the fact that pictures and stones are not protected by law—against their owners. If a man owns a work of art, however valuable, he is quite free, as far as the law is concerned, to smash it into atoms; but if he should do the same to his cat or dog, however valueless, he would quickly find himself before a magistrate. Of course, protection does not necessarily involve rights, but in some protective measures, such as the Factory Acts, rights are by implication admitted; and whereas the Game Laws, for instance, are a mere property act, denoting no right in the animals “preserved,” the acts for the prevention of cruelty, on the contrary, are protective in the same sense as the Factory Acts—implying a definite duty on the part of the State towards the sentient beings concerned.
Mr. Shaler, from whose important work on “Domesticated Animals” I have already quoted, says:
“A century ago a man, so far as the law was concerned, owned his living chattels as he did the inanimate things of his property. He could torture or slay them as whim or malice might dictate; there were no limitations by statute, and public opinion, where it might reprobate, was too weak to influence his conduct. Now the statute-books of all countries which are moving in the path of moral advance show that public opinion has attained the point where it begins to formulate itself in statutes which restrict the relations of men to their domestic animals, or, in other words, endow them with definite rights.”
Nor, as I hinted above, can such obligations, whether legal or moral, be whittled away by the comfortable expedient of calling them “duties” instead of “rights,” and here again I must take exception to Professor Ritchie’s reasoning. “We may be said,” he remarks, in a sentence which would sound fitter in the mouth of a Jesuitical casuist than of an ethical and rational writer, “to have duties of kindness towards the animals, but it is incorrect to represent these as strictly duties towards themselves, as if they had rights against us.” It is the “kindness” only, it seems, that has reference to the animal in this convenient arrangement, the “duty” being a private affair of the man’s; or, to speak metaphorically, the” duty” is the handle of the tap, and the” kindness” the water which may be turned on or off at pleasure. But this arbitrary dictum obviously rests on nothing but the old belief, untenable in the light of fuller knowledge, that an animal is not a “person;” and in view of the fact that our legislation actually prohibits cruelty to domestic animals, it may pertinently be asked to whom is it, if not to the animal, that the man owes the “duty”? To himself, it can hardly be said; for surely the law does not step in where there is only one person concerned! To “human society,” to “civilized life,” says Professor Ritchie; but if this be so in the case of the Cruelty to Animals Acts, it may equally hold good of the Factory Acts or any other humane legislation, and so bring us to the absurd conclusion that State protection has no reference at all to the interests of the protected party, but only to the general standard of morality, whereas, obviously, it has direct regard to both.
It would be difficult to persuade any clear minded thinker that if (let us say) a drunken carman brutally ill-treats a horse, and then brutally assaults a passer-by who remonstrates with him, he has committed a breach of duty against one person only. To twist and manipulate the doctrine of duties in this way is to make it merely ridiculous. “Flowers laugh before thee on their beds,” sang Wordsworth, in his famous “Ode to Duty"; and well they might laugh at the very accommodating idea of moral obligations which some philosophers entertain. It is impossible (for a humanitarian, at any rate) to look in the eyes of an intelligent highly organized animal and doubt for a moment that we have a direct duty towards the races below us—a duty which is the same in kind as that which we owe to human beings, however greatly it may differ in degree. An ethical teacher who denies rights to animals on the ground that they are not “persons” is practically relying on the same argument as that of the Catholic peasant who derides the idea of any duty towards animals because they are not Christians—“they have no souls.”
But to do him justice, Professor Ritchie is half conscious of the weakness of his ground, and practically gives away his case, as far as the domestic animals are concerned, by the concession which he makes at the end of it. After scouting the idea that animals have rights, or men duties towards animals, he remarked: “We have admitted certain animals to a sort of honorary membership of our society; and we come to think of them as standing in a quasi-human relation to ourselves, especially when we give them names of their own, as if they were persons. . . . In a metaphorical sense we may be said to have duties towards these honorary human beings.” Very delightful is the Pickwickian expression of “metaphorical” duties to “honorary” persons.
History repeats itself in these matters. There was a time when the slave’s membership of human society was regarded as dubious and “honorary”; and the rights of women were slowly and painfully established, as our forefathers’ sympathies expanded. For here is the key to the whole discussion—the sympathy that is the very essence of the human. “There is something in human nature,” says an old writer, “resulting from our very make and constitution, which renders us obnoxious to the pains of others, causes us to sympathize with them, and almost comprehends us in their case.” And this sympathy, as Mr. Lecky has shown in his “History of European Morals,” is ever gradually widening with a widening civilization.
“At one time,” he says, “the benevolent affections embrace merely the family; soon the circle expanding includes first a class, then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity; and, finally, its influence is felt in the dealings of man with the animal world.”
The gradual recognition of rights keeps pace with the phases of this moral development, as mankind slowly wins its way from a narrow and selfish barbarism to a wide sense of brotherhood with all sentient beings.
When we turn from the principle discussed above to the application of that principle to our treatment of the lower races, we are brought front to front with a series of vexed questions, each of which, if at all fully handled, would need an essay or a volume to itself; so that all we can do in this article is to glance briefly at the probable effect of a recognition of animals’ rights on the use of animals for such purposes as draught, sport, food, dress, and scientific experimentation.
In the first place, humanitarians do not share the extreme view expressed by Lewis Gompertz in his “Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and Brutes” (1824), that mankind has no moral right to use the lower animals in its service—that “at least in the present state of society it is unjust, and considering the unnecessary abuse they suffer from being in the power of man, it is wrong to use them, and to encourage their being placed in his power.” Being compelled to deal with facts as we find them, and seeing that from immemorial ages the labour of animals has been interwoven with the labour of man in the fabric of human society, it seems wiser to claim for animals their due rights, as a part of that organisation, than to insist on an abstract moral proposition which can neither be proved nor disproved, and is quite certain to be barren of any practical results. It is the fate not only of countless animals, but also of countless men, to be born into a life of unremitting, ill-requited drudgery; and it is the duty of the ethical reformer not to complain that either man or animal should thus be doomed to labour, but rather to quicken the sense of responsibility on the part of society as a whole towards its individual workers, with a view to the gradual humanising of their lot.
“Man is indispensably bound,” wrote John Lawrence, a hundred years ago, “to bestow upon animals, in return for the benefit he derives from their service, good and sufficient nourishment, comfortable shelter, and merciful treatment; to commit no wanton outrage upon their feelings whilst alive, and to put them to the speediest and least painful death when it shall be necessary to deprive them of life.” This is now very commonly admitted in theory, but it is to be feared that at least another century will have to pass before precept and practice are in unison; indeed, under the present system of society, where almost everything is measured, even for men, by the merely commercial standard, it is impossible that animals should be generally treated with gentleness and consideration. The complaint made by Thoreau of man’s “not educating the horse, not trying to develop his nature, but merely getting work out of him,” is descriptive of our average attitude towards the domestic animals, except when we make “pets” of them—and then our kindness is perhaps more fatal than our cruelty. Must we not feel that the main cause of our wrong-doing, kind or cruel, is the lingering belief that animals are mere things, an irrational race of beings wholly separate from the human, and that, as this superstition dies out, our present stupid and unfeeling treatment of our “rudimentary brethren” will be replaced by a more sane and sympathetic one? It is the denial of “personality” to animals that is at the root of the evil.
So, too, as regards the wild animals; for though we have not the same social duties towards these as towards the domestic, for services performed, yet we are morally bound to do them no unnecessary wrong, and it is to be hoped that the twentieth century will enforce this duty by legislation. The absurdity of the present state of the English law, which forbids cruelty to domestic animals, while it permits almost any sort of atrocity to be wreaked on wild ones in “sport,” and further insists on classing as feræ naturæ such practically domesticated, if not domestic, creatures as the park-fed stag, the bagged rabbit, the caged pigeon, is acknowledged on all hands, and is rapidly becoming sufficiently scandalous to give some hope of a reform. For wild animals also have their own individuality and character; they are not stocks and stones, but living, sentient beings; and the more this is felt and understood, the more their rights will be respected, and the less will rational and civilized persons be disposed to indulge in “sport” (or “blood-sport,” as it should properly be called, to distinguish it from the manlier games of the gymnasium or cricket-field), that pastime of idle gentlemen who, in a civilized era, have not yet emerged from old-world savagery.
“Sport,” says Robert Buchanan, “in so far as it embraces the hunting and killing of wild animals is invariably more or less demoralizing—is, in fact, a relapse from civilization to barbarism. Therein lies its real fascination for men bored with the proprieties and duties of the nineteenth century. The instincts of the primeval man—food-hunting, predatory, self-preserving—re-emerge in the modem; moral sanctions are disregarded, the rights of inferior races are forgotten, and the hunter feels himself, figuratively speaking, naked, savage, bloodthirsty, and unashamed.”
The distinctive feature of blood-sport, among the various traditional habits that infringe the rights of animals, is its wantonness. To kill may be justifiable, is often justifiable; but to take pleasure in killing can never be otherwise than immoral in a man who claims to be civilized.
In strong contrast to the childishness of sport stands the deliberateness of vivisection, yet I think it must be recognized that this, too, springs from a common origin—the lack of any real conception that the lower animals are intelligent beings with a rational purpose in their lives. Given a race of “brute beasts,” which [sic] are assumed to exist for the sole object of ministering to human convenience, and it was inevitable that they should be used and ill-used in various ways according to the whims and fancies, or the more serious inclinations, of their masters. Thus regarded from the several standpoints of the human temperament—the impulse of hunger, of recreation, of curiosity—an animal is something to eat, something to hunt, something to vivisect; and the contention of many zoophilists that the physiological experimentation on animals is an abnormal and monstrous cruelty quite apart from and in excess of all other cruelty to animals seems to me to have no foundation in fact. The true reason for condemning vivisection appears to be this—that, like sport, it rests on a faulty ethical basis, the untenable notion that man has no direct duties to the animals, and that in dealing with them he may lawfully disregard all those promptings of sympathy and justice which he is so strongly exhorted to cultivate in his dealings with his fellow-men.
There are still scientists, it is said, who are not afraid to advocate a recurrence to the ancient habit of human vivisection, as in the case of hardened criminals and outlaws. To argue against such thinkers that animal vivisection is iniquitous would be idle, for how can one expect regard for the lower rights where there is none for the higher? But it may pertinently be asked of the great bulk of physiologists, who indignantly repudiate the idea of vivisecting human beings, but are equally emphatic in their justification of experiments on animals, on what grounds they base this difference in their ethical principles. It is from the scientists themselves that we have the clearest assurance that man is an animal, and that the great gulf which has been supposed to yawn between the human and non-human has existed only in imagination. Where, then, do they find an ethical warrant for the infliction of prolonged and exquisite tortures on sentient beings who, by their own showing, are closely akin to mankind? If a mere difference in degree of sensibility and intelligence is held to be the justification, there must be equal sanction for the sacrifice of a savage or a criminal. Vivisection (i.e., compulsory vicarious sacrifice) is simply a denial of the most elementary rights; and a sincere belief in the rights of animals would render all such practices unthinkable.
Again, differing widely in some respects from such usages as sport and vivisection, yet connected with these at root, is the time-honoured habit of killing animals for food. I have no intention here of preaching “vegetarianism,” nor will we now discuss the fallacy, of often exploded, that we do a kindness to animals by breeding and killing them, because otherwise they would not live at all; but it must be briefly pointed out that if, as we anticipate, the society of the future will be inspired by a deeper and tenderer regard for animal sufferings, it is impossible to doubt that this sentiment will affect the food-question as much as any other question relating to the lower races. Here, too, the admission of “rights” will work a revolution in our attitude to the animal world. To those, of course, who are convinced that flesh food is a necessity of human welfare, it is vain to suggest that it will form no part in the future dietary; that is a matter which time alone can decide. But we shall all agree that at any rate the humanising of our diet, to an extent which is not at present thought of, partly by the avoidance of those foods which cause the worst suffering and partly by a drastic reform of the present cruel and clumsy methods slaughter, will be a movement of no very distant date, and one in which all ethical teachers should co-operate. A subject of such vital importance as morality in diet should receive more attention, and such a book, for example, as Mr. Howard Williams’s “Ethics of Diet” should be better known.
It should be remembered that it is precisely in such personal matters as diet and dress that an individual may effect a reform for himself without waiting for legislation, and that therefore greater personal responsibility attaches to such habits. No one is obliged to wear sealskin or osprey plumes; and no one, we imagine, would wear them if once the horrible deeds by which such articles are provided could be brought home to the mind of a thoughtless and indifferent public. In like manner, no one is compelled, for the support of health and strength, to eat those foods which cause the dreadful and disgusting incidents of the cattle-ship and the slaughter-house; and here, again, it may safely be asserted that a full knowledge of the facts would be effective in working a remedy. For ourselves, we cannot doubt that as our regard for animals increases, and as we become more aware that a large and growing number of people are living healthily in our midst without recourse to flesh food, the adoption of a humaner diet system will become inevitable. It is as inherent in the logic of development as is the discontinuance of sport or vivisection.
In conclusion, we would point out that this question of the rights of animals is an integral part of the great “social question” in which we are all concerned; it is, properly considered, a human question of great interest and importance, and one which ethical thinkers, least of all, can afford to neglect. Says Frederic Harrison:
“Our relation to the animals, at least to the nobler mammals, does not form an appendix to our human morality, much less does it form a distinct branch of ethics, or an independent morality by itself. No, it is part and parcel of our human morality, and is interwoven with it and inseparable from it. Our duties towards our lower helpmates form part of our duties towards our fellow-beings. The highest ‘brutes’ are our fellow-beings. Man can only regard himself as the advance guard, or as the commanding officer and leader of a vast army of living, sentient, and moral beings, whose natural function is to use, improve, and make the best of this wondrous and complex earth.”
How, then, shall we sum up in a sentence the principle of our duties to the lower animals? I do not know that it can be better done than in the words of George Nicholson, one of those early pioneers to the influence of whose writings, though now almost forgotten, the cause of humaneness owes so much. “In our conduct to animals,” he wrote, “one plain rule may determine what form it ought to take, and prove an effectual guard against an improper treatment of them—a rule universally admitted as a foundation of moral rectitude: Treat the animal in such a manner as you would willingly be treated, were you such an animal.” In our dealings with the non-human as with the human race, it is not “charity,” or “self-sacrifice,” or “mercy” that is required, but simple justice—an insistence on our own duties as on those of our neighbours, a recognition of our neighbours’ rights as of our own.
The kinship of life is the only true basis of ethics; and it is towards this sense of kinship, seen at first only by inspired poets and dreamers from afar, that science, no less than humanitarian sentiment, is now leading us. “Far as custom has carried man from man,” says a great teacher, “yet when at last in the ever-branching series the complete human being is produced, it knows at once its kinship with all the other forms. More, it knows its kinship with the animals. It sees that it is only habit, an illusion of difference, that divides; and it perceives after all that it is the same human creature that flies in the air, and swims in the sea, or walks biped upon the land.”
Published: Humane Review,