Animal rights is a social movement and philosophy that seeks the recognition of non-human animals as beings with their own individual worth quite apart from their usefulness to human beings. We reject all forms of exploitation of animals in all sectors of human life.
Animal rights activists do not seek the same human rights for other species. However, they do seek rights that are relevant to those other species. Animals suffer and feel pain just as we do and to ignore this fact is discriminatory.
It is often argued that animals do not deserve rights because they are not as aware as most adult human beings or as they cannot reciprocate rights. However babies and some people with severe mental impairments are not considered to be responsible for their actions. To argue that the ability to act ethically (i.e. consider right and wrong) is necessary in the granting of rights would mean these groups of humans would be equally excluded.
To quote the 18th century philosopher Jeremey Bentham:
“The day may come when the rest of animal creation may acquire those rights which could never have been withheld from them but by the hand of tyranny…a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week or even a month old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? The question is not, can they reason? Nor can they talk? But can they suffer?”
Throughout history the ‘logic’ of protecting one’s own group, believing it to be superior, has been used to justify discrimination on the basis of race, gender, class, etc. In the past working class men were not allowed to vote. When that was changed, women were still not allowed to vote and black people were kept as slaves, etc. the oppressive group in each case put the interests of his group above the interests of the oppressed group. To draw the line at species is simply arbitrary. The fact is rights must be granted on the basis of the ability to suffer and feel, because a being that can do these things can be positively or negatively effected by actions done to her.
Animal rights should be seen as part of social change alongside, rather than in conflict with, the protection of human beings. Many animal rights activists take action on human rights issues because we are against all abuse whether that be directed at human or non-human animals.