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Animal Rights: Group Discussion Guide

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1 week

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If you are just starting your freethought campus group, you might be in need of some fresh ideas to kick off the quarter. Even if you are an established group, oftentimes it can be difficult to come up with new topics every week for the duration of the academic calendar. These meeting topic activity packets should provide you with some materials and discussion questions that you can use to spur dialogue and conversation at your meetings. Attached is also a PowerPoint which you could use to introduce the group to this fascinating topic.

 Animal Rights

Animal Rights advocates hold that non-human species deserve the same rights and respect from humans that are guaranteed to the human species broadly under the rule of law. Animal rights activists oppose the ownership of animals and the subjugation of them as food, clothing, entertainment, and research subjects. Animal rights activism takes many forms, some militant (Animal Liberation Front), some more diplomatic and focused on enacting legislation to protect animal rights.

Philosophically, there are two main approaches to understanding animal rights. A Utilitarian approach and a Rights Based approach. Those that argue for a Utilitarian approach to animal rights make the case that the consequences associated with animal cruelty should be the main driver behind effort to treat animals as equals. In other words, the pain that animals feel entitles them to the same consideration humans receive regardless of our conception of "rights".

A Rights based approach posits that an animal's cognitive ability entitles it to the same consideration and rights that human beings receive from each other. The main proponent of this view is Philosopher and Animal Rights proponent Tom Regan. The Utilitarian approach is championed by the Australian Philosopher and Author of Animal Liberation, Peter Singer.

Those that support Animal Rights object to the conditions in which animals are kept as they await their slaughter, use as medical test subjects, and exploitation as producers of food or clothing materials.Animals in factory Farm conditions are far more likely to experience injuries and stress due to the close confinement, proximity to other animals, lack of adequate sunlight and breeding grounds, and selective breeding conditions that create unnatural and harmful growth patterns.

Animals are not entirely unprotected by law. the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 stipulates that animals used for research must be properly anesthetized and cared for prior to and during testing procedures. The Act fails to address the conditions of animals used for food and other farm related uses in that it excludes all "birds, rats, mice, horses not used for research purposes, and other farm animals, such as, but not limited to livestock or poultry, used or intended for use as food or fiber."

Teaser Questions:

  1. Does the recent violence at the Conklin Dairy Farms change the way you view animal cruelty or factory farming?
  2. How does the prevalent role factory farming plays in agriculture affect your decisions as a consumer?
  3. Do farm animals and lab testing animals deserve the same respect and treatment we give our pets?
  4. Does a surge in advocacy for animal rights indicate that humans have reached a new level of compassion rooted in an inter-species based morality rather than merely a respect for our fellow man?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it your responsibility to choose to adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle if you believe strongly in the rights of animals?
  2. As per the Utilitarian philosophical approach, would you feel that an animal's rights are based in large part on their ability to feel pain as a consequence of our acts upon them, as opposed to any kind of dejure rights their cognitive abilities entitle them to?
  3. If a dog threatens a human infant, even if it requires causing more pain to the dog to stop it, than the dog would have caused to the infant, then we favor the child. Would it not be be monstrous to spare the dog?


  • Food Inc. - This is the trailer for the film. The film's first segment examines the industrial production of meat (chicken, beef, and pork), calling it inhumane and economically and environmentally unsustainable.
  • Conklin Dairy Farm Animal Cruelty -> An undercover footage exposes dairy farm workers sadistically abusing cows and young calves. The video was recorded during a new MERCY FOR ANIMALS four-week investigation between April and May 2010 at Conklin Dairy Farms in Plain City, Ohio.
  • Philosopher Peter Singer on ABC's Talking Heads - Peter Singer interview from 2007. He talks about his life and family as well as animal liberation, vegetarianism, philosophy and ethics.

Animal Rights PowerPoint Primer:

Is it our duty to treat animals with the same respect and consideration we offer to each other. What cognitive abilities do some animals have that entitle them to equal treatment with Homo sapiens? Does an animal's ability to feel pain entitle it to a set of rights comparable to our own? Do animals exhibit the ability to make moral choices? What factory farming methods are particularly heinous, and need to be abolished? These are the questions.... Click here for the answers.

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