Month: January 2009

Animal Rights 101, part six: New Welfarism

Introduction

In order to respect the basic moral rights of nonhuman animals, we must abolish their use. Once we’ve done this in our own lives by becoming vegan, we are left with the question of how to abolish the use of animals in society at large. Given that the use of animals will not end overnight, and that we have a duty to help today’s animals, the question can be more specifically framed as, “What sort of advocacy leads incrementally to abolition?”

Much of the modern global animal protection movement’s advocacy work is grounded in the belief that we can bring about abolition–or at least animal “liberation”–by focusing on how nonhuman animals are treated by humans. Broadly speaking, the idea is that advocating welfare reform and educating the public about animal suffering will incrementally reduce that suffering, eventually leading to the abolition of animal use or to greater consideration for the preferences of nonhuman animals. In his work, professor Gary L. Francione calls this ideology new welfarism.[1]

New welfarism

There are at least two major strands of new welfarism recognizable within the modern global animal protection movement.

The first is comprised of people who consider themselves abolitionists. Their objective is to eliminate animal use. The second strand includes those utilitarians who, like Peter Singer, seek as their objective the equal consideration of interests or preferences, not abolition. Because utilitarianism is not inherently opposed to animal use, this position can be difficult to distinguish from traditional welfarism, which holds that it is acceptable to use nonhuman animals as a means to human ends. But unlike most traditional welfarists, Singer-style new welfarists believe that humans and animals are equal and that their preferences must always be weighed equally.

Regardless of their differences, what all new welfarists share in common is that they focus their efforts primarily on improving the welfare of exploited animals—i.e., their treatment—rather than directly challenging the notion of animal use.[2] They believe that that their objective can be achieved through welfare-based reforms and by educating the public about how animals are treated. Below are some key beliefs characteristic of new welfarist ideology. A new welfarist need not hold all these beliefs, nor should this list be seen as exhaustive.

  1. The new welfarist believes that legal and institutional welfare reform campaigns offer animals increased protection and reduce animal suffering today.
  2. The new welfarist believes that, by raising public awareness of the cruelty caused by institutionalized animal exploitation, reform campaigns will prompt people to reduce or even eliminate their use and consumption of animals and products derived from animals. Under this belief, new welfarists support and promote non-vegan vegetarianism as a way to reduce one’s contribution to animal suffering.
  3. The new welfarist believes that reform campaigns will damage the animal-using industries.

In the next installment of AR101, I will examine these beliefs in more detail to determine whether they are well-founded or whether we should look to another incremental approach to abolition.

Next: A Closer Look at New Welfarism

Previous: Utilitarianism


1. See Chapter 2 of Gary L. Francione’s Rain Without Thunder for a more thorough introduction to new welfarism.
2. For an extended discussion of use versus treatment, read Gary L. Francione’s “Introduction / The Abolition of Animal Use versus the Regulation of Animal Treatment” in Animals as Persons.


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