Abolition Reform and Status

As noted earlier, a second important question asks how much our freedom should be limited in our dealings with other animals. Three sorts of options may be distinguished: abolitionist, reformist, and status quo. An abolitionist position argues on behalf of ending human practices that routinely utilize nonhuman animals (for example, as a source of food or as models in scientific research). A reformist position accepts these institutions in principle but seeks in various ways to improve them in practice (for example, by enlarging the cages for animals used in research). A status quo position, unlike the abolitionist position, accepts these institutions in principle and, unlike the reformist position, does not recognize the need to improve them. Representative examples of each outlook and their logical relationship to competing normative ethical theories will be explained below.

While the heated, sometimes acrimonious, debate among partisans of abolition, reform, and the status quo captures the attention of the media, far less attention has been devoted to the critical assessment of the competing ethical philosophies, whether of the direct or indirect duty variety. This by itself suggests the degree to which the public debate over "animal rights," broadly conceived, has assumed the greater part of what is most in need of informed, critical reflection. For clearly, whether we should favor the goals of supporters of abolition, reform, or the status quo in practice depends on determining the most adequate account of how we should treat nonhuman animals in theory. It is to a consideration of some of the major options in ethical theory that this entry now turns.

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