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Ethical Treatment of Animals (July 2015): General Works

By Walter Hogan and Eric Owen

General Works

Lori Gruen’s Ethics and Animals is perhaps the best concise general introduction to animal ethics.  It explores strengths and weaknesses of each of the major theories, and devotes chapters to each of the major categories of animal use.  Karen Dawn’s book is certainly the most enjoyable introduction to a subject that has its depressing side.  Her Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals offers an entertaining tour of the contemporary animal protection scene in brief, humorous essays and anecdotes that are perfect for today’s sound-bite culture.  Paul Waldau, who has taught animal classes in both law and veterinary schools, provides another excellent introduction to the field with Animal Rights: What Everyone Needs to Know.  Much of the book is organized in question-and-answer format.  It includes biographies of major figures, a chronology, a glossary, and suggestions for further reading.

Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships: A Global Exploration of Our Connections with Animals, edited by Marc Bekoff, is a four-volume set with over 350 essays by expert contributors.  Illustrated and well indexed, with bibliographies, sidebars, and appendixes, this is a terrific resource for browsing and for first-step research.  The Oxford Handbook of Animal Ethics, edited by Tom Beauchamp and R. G. Frey, is another excellent general starting point for researchers.  Nearly a thousand pages thick, with contributions by thirty-five leading scholars, the Handbook includes essays on animal capabilities, general animal ethics, and particular animal-use practices, including keeping companion animals, animal use in research, and much more.

In Brute Souls, Happy Beasts, and Evolution, Rod Preece surveys centuries of texts to challenge some stubborn myths about human attitudes toward animals.  Preece shows that Christian doctrine is less one-sided than usually thought; that Darwin’s theory of evolution did not bring about a dramatic improvement in treatment of animals; and, in general, that there is no orthodoxy in the history of animal ethics.  Gary Steiner’s Anthropocentrism and Its Discontents also tours Western thought from ancient to modern times.  Like Preece, Steiner finds numerous recorded examples of attitudes contrary to the traditional, anthropocentric concept of man as uniquely situated below God, but well above all of animal creation.  Catherine Osborne, who restricts her survey to ancient texts, also finds surprising concern for animals among classic poets, dramatists, and philosophers.  Her Dumb Beasts and Dead Philosophers argues that humans’ quest for a just relationship with animals will not be achieved through scientific advances or sentimentality, but by engagement with deep, timeless values and ideals that were well expressed by ancient poets.

Also available are some good collections of diverse essays that provide a nice introduction to the field.  Strangers to Nature: Animal Lives and Human Ethics, edited by Gregory Smulewicz-Zucker, includes fourteen original essays, many by prominent authors.  The collection leans toward the moderate, welfare perspective that focuses on compassionate treatment.  A number of the essays assess the state of the movement and propose strategies for continuing to advance the animal protection cause.  Species Matters: Humane Advocacy and Cultural Theory, edited by Marianne DeKoven and Michael Lundblad, is a multidisciplinary collection with essays by an unusually diverse group of highly renowned scholars.  The extent to which human-animal relations should be addressed within cultural studies and the relationship between scholarship and advocacy are persistent themes in the collection.

Works Cited