Title: Animal Rights: A Very Short Introduction
Author: David DeGrazia
Publisher: Oxford University Press
This short book is an accessible resource for teachers. The book itself is probably, as a whole, too complex for most high school students. Teachers might use it primarily to familiarise themselves with the debates concerning animal rights. There are, however, several sections which could be used to generate teaching material.
The section on ‘Moral Status’ in chapter two (pgs 13-14) gives a straightforward explanation of what moral status is, with examples of how the idea of moral status can inform animal ethics.
A table in chapter two (pg 20) outlines three different senses, or views, of animal rights – the moral-status sense, the equal-consideration sense, and the utility-trumping sense. Teachers might ask students to come up with reasons for and against understanding animal rights in each of these ways.
Chapter two also contains a pithy treatment of speciesism (pgs 24-25). Consider, DeGrazia says, ‘the possible future scenario in which we encounter extraterrestrial beings who are more intelligent, sensitive, and cultured than we. If one claimed that the mere fact that they were not human justified discounting their interests, this would invite the charge of bigotry not unlike racism and sexism. Indeed, one of the biggest difficulties with the appeal to species is that it offers no more justification for its favoured way of dividing ‘us’ from ‘them’ than dogmatic racists and sexists offer for their different ways of dividing up the moral world…’ Teachers might present students with this extract, and ask them whether or not they agree with it – and why.
The two vignettes that introduce chapter four (pgs 54-55) – both concerning the harms to animals of suffering, confinement, and death – might be used to prompt discussions about what it means to treat animals humanely. Each of these vignettes presents two contrasting views. Because of their accessibility, they are likely to prove successful with younger students.
Chapter four also contains a sub-section entitled ‘Is Death a Harm?’ (pgs 59-62). The sub-section is very accessible, and considers a number of arguments concerning whether or not (painless) death constitutes a harm. Teachers might consider offering this as a reading to older students.
Chapter five is introduced by three vignettes, which detail the cruel treatment of animals in factory farms. The first follows a chicken, the second a hog, and the third a cow. Teachers might consider reading these passages to students, before asking them to discuss what responsibilities we have – if any – to non-human animals. (It is worth noting, however, that some of the descriptions contained in these vignettes are both graphic and shocking.)
Chapter five contains a sub-section entitled ‘Moral Evaluation’ (pgs 73-77), in which the author argues that factory farms cause massive unnecessary harms, and that to cause massive unnecessary harm is wrong. He considers a number of objections to this claim – that consumers are not doing the harming, that factory farms are economically necessary – and bolsters his argument with a range of considerations. Teachers might use this sub-section, in whole or in part, to demonstrate argument style. Teachers might also ask students to assess the author’s arguments and offer reasons for judging them either successful or unsuccessful.
Chapter six, which concerns keeping pets and zoo animals, is an especially accessible and engaging chapter. It contains sections entitled ‘Conditions for Keeping Animals’, ‘Pets’, ‘Description of Zoos’, ‘Should We Take Animals From the Wild?’, ‘Should We Keep Animals in Zoos?’ and ‘Some Special Cases’. Teachers might utilise these sections, individually or in combination, in an effort to engage students with issues to which they will readily relate.