Gary L. Francione is an animal rights philosopher who teaches at Rutgers School of Law. In all of his works and lectures, he champions a belief in animal rights, not animal welfare. He has distanced himself from the most famous ethicist, Peter Singer, who Francione calls an advocate of animal welfare. An advocate of animal welfare believes that animals have moral value, usually because they can feel pain and that this means we should look out for their welfare. This seems like a pretty compassionate view to take. However, in terms of its application, animal welfare advocates tend to be reformist, whereas animal rights advocates tend to be abolitionist. Philosophers like Peter Singer would like to see an end to factory farming, but they are not completely opposed to the practice of killing animals or using them in experiments for the benefit of humans. The welfarist approach is concerned with reforming and regulating these practices.
Philosophers like Gary Francione, on the other hand, would like to see an end to our treatment of animals as property altogether. This means an end to the use and consumption of animals. Gary Francione sees veganism as the logical consequence of the abolitionist position. The animal rights position involves a recognition that animals deserve their own rights in virtue of the characteristics they have; namely that they are sentient – that they are consciously aware. More importantly, animals are aware of pain, pleasure, sorrow, mourning, comfort, discomfort, and a wide range of emotions, and that this should inform our ethical outlook towards them. Francione is not saying that animals deserve human rights. He is saying that sentience is the factor which determines whether something has the right not to be treated as property, or as a means to an end, or as a commodity, or as a slave.
In Animals, Property, and the Law (1995) he argues that when the interests of an animal are balanced against the interests of its “owner”, the interests of the owner will always prevail, no matter how trivial or unimportant they are. The failure to recognise an animal’s interests, and the failure to award them legal rights based on these interests (such as the right not to be harmed or killed), means that humans have developed a kind of “moral schizophrenia”.
Francione uses this phrase in his book Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? Following criticisms of the term, he explains on his website that the phrase stands for “the delusional and confused way that we think about animals as a social/moral matter.” As he goes on to say, this moral schizophrenia can consist of “conflicting or inconsistent ways of looking at animals (some are family members; others are dinner)…deluding ourselves about animal sentience and the similarities between humans and other animals, and an enormous amount of confusion about the moral status of nonhumans.”
Francione argues that the lack of moral status which we accord to animals is similar to the lack of moral status which we accorded to slaves in the 18th and 19th Century. Slaves were the property of their slave owners and this treatment was inconsistent with our moral behaviour towards humans of every other race. Likewise, as Francione highlights in Animals, Property, and the Law, our moral schizophrenic attitude means that we treat animals in a way which would be considered torture or abuse if humans were treated in the same way. For example, the practice of confining animals in cages, cutting off their appendages without anaesthesia, denying them sunlight or outdoors, and forcing them to live in filthy conditions would be considered torture if the same was done to a person. As Francione points out, the way in which animals are used for their meat, milk or eggs should be considered torture because their sentience means that they, like humans, are also capable of suffering.
Cases of moral schizophrenia can be found everywhere. Francione brings our attention to the case of American football player Michael Vicks who was demonised for his involvement with dogfighting. However, this disapproving judgement from the media and the public is completely at odds with the custom of eating animal products. Although the use and consumption of animal products do not cause direct harm, it does cause indirect harm. In the end, the harm and death inflicted upon billions of animals each year would not be possible without the demand for animal products – supply has to reflect demand. Another obvious example of moral schizophrenia is the loving attitude that people have towards pets, compared to the disregard that people have towards farm animals which they consume. This inconsistency is revealed in laws protecting the welfare of pets. This is illustrated by this man who skinned and cooked his cat and faced criminal charges of animal cruelty. Yet this same level of cruelty is tolerated when it involves the animals we eat.
One reason why people are morally schizophrenic is that the industries which discount the interests of animals are often separated and distant from consumers. Factory farms are hidden away from the public so that they cannot comprehend the ruthless abuse and extermination that goes on within them. As Paul McCartney has said: “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” Although I think if people could see what the inside of egg and milk factories look like too, a lot of people would also consider going vegan.
The disconnect that exists between the production and consumption of animal products creates some serious inconsistencies in people’s moral opinions. I’m sure that most people would not feel comfortable in harming animals or using standard slaughter methods to kill them; yet eating meat, cheese and eggs is a choice that they give no thought about. Most people also seem to be against hunting but are happy to eat an animal which was killed in a far more cruel and painful manner. There is no logical, consistent reason why practices such as dogfighting, hunting and abusing pets are considered cruel, whereas treating farm animals as property is not.
Bruce Friedrich (a vegan), in this debate with Gary Francione, makes the case that the best way to promote the abolitionist cause is to support welfare reforms. He asserts that it is wrong to oppose welfare reforms, as Francione does, simply because they would still involve the exploitation of animals. Rather, Friedrich appeals to the interests of animals, arguing that they would benefit immensely from such reforms and that if we oppose them then there will be no relief whatsoever to their torment. He asks us to imagine humans being caged in veal crates or gestations crates, unable to turn over for the rest of their lives. Admittedly, the confinement of the animal is wrong in itself, but we should still campaign for a ban on such crates as an act of compassion. From the animal’s point of view, they would be much happier with these welfare reforms than without them.
And you have to ask yourself, is it really counter-productive for a human rights activist to support welfare reforms for instances of human rights abuses? Many of those who oppose capital punishment, for example, support methods of execution which minimise suffering. Whether welfare reforms and regulations are the most effective way to achieve abolition is much less certain. Welfarists, such as Friedrich, argue that the road to abolition will involve incremental changes because people are less open to radical change. In his opinion, it is far easier to get people thinking about abolition (and going vegan) by getting them to think about welfare first. Friedrich claims that this is not an either/or debate – you can be an abolitionist and a vegan whilst agreeing with welfare reforms.