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Li, H. Animal Ethics. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 08 December 2023).
Li H. Animal Ethics. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed December 08, 2023.
Li, Handwiki. "Animal Ethics" Encyclopedia, (accessed December 08, 2023).
Li, H.(2022, November 17). Animal Ethics. In Encyclopedia.
Li, Handwiki. "Animal Ethics." Encyclopedia. Web. 17 November, 2022.
Animal Ethics

Animal ethics is a term used in academia to name the branch of ethics that examines human-animal relationships, the moral consideration of animals and how nonhuman animals ought to be treated. The subject matter includes animal rights, animal welfare, animal law, speciesism, animal cognition, wildlife conservation, the moral status of nonhuman animals, the concept of nonhuman personhood, human exceptionalism, the history of animal use, and theories of justice. Several different theoretical approaches have been proposed to examine this field, in accordance to the different theories currently defended in moral and political philosophy.

moral consideration nonhuman animals moral status

1. History of Animal Rights

The first animal rights laws were first introduced between 1635–1780. In 1635, Ireland was the first country to pass animal protection legislation, "An Act against Plowing by the Tayle, and pulling the Wooll off living Sheep".[1] In 1641, Massachusetts colony's called Body of Liberties that includes regulation against any "Tirranny or Crueltie" towards animals.[2] In 1687, Japan reintroduced a ban on eating meat and killing animals.[3] In 1789, philosopher Jeremy Bentham argued in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation that an animal's capacity to suffer—not their intelligence—meant that they should be granted rights: "The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?"[4]

Between 1822–1892, more laws were passed to protect animals. In 1822, the British Parliament passed the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act.[5] In 1824, the first animal rights society was founded in England by Richard Martin, Arthur Broome, Lewis Gompertz and William Wilberforce, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which later became the RSPCA.[6] The same year, Gompertz published Moral inquiries on the situation of man and of brutes, one of the first books advocating for what will be more than a century later known as veganism.[7] In 1835, Britain passed the first Cruelty to Animals Act.[8] In 1866, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded by New Yorker Henry Bergh.[9] In 1875, Frances Power Cobbe established the National Anti-Vivisection Society in Britain.[10] In 1892, English social reformer Henry Stephens Salt published Animal Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress.[11]

Between 1944–1998, animal rights gained increasing support. In 1944, Donald Watson, an English animal rights advocate, founded the Vegan Society in Britain.[12] In 1970, Richard D. Ryder coined the term "speciesism", a term for discrimination against animals based on their species-membership.[13] This term was popularized by the philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer in his 1975 book Animal Liberation. The book has been considered very influential in the development of animal rights.[14] Other ethicists that have since have since work in this field include Tom Regan, Steve F. Sapontzis, Paola Cavalieri and Evelyn Pluhar.[15]

2. The 3Rs of Animal Testing

Laboratory rat with a brain implant being fed.

The 3 R's were first introduced in 1959 by Russell and Burch, and that stands for Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement. The 3 R's are the guiding principles for the ethical treatment of animals used for testing and experimentation.[16]

3. Ethical Guidelines for Animal Research

There are a wide range of ethical assessments regarding animals used in research. There are general opinions on that animals do have a moral status and how they are treated should be subjected to ethical consideration. Some of the positions include:

  • Animals have intrinsic values that must be respected.
  • Animals can feel pain and their interests must be taken into consideration.
  • Our treatment of all animals/lab animals reflects on our attitudes and influences us on our moral beings.[17]

To go into further details of guidelines that are to be followed includes:

  1. Respect Animal Dignity: Researchers must have respect towards the animals' worth, regardless of their value and the animals' interests as living, sentient creatures. Researchers has to have respect when choosing their topics/methods, and when expanding their research. Researchers also has to supply care that is adapted to needs to each laboratory animal.[17]
  2. Responsibility for considering options (Replace): When there are alternatives available, researchers are responsible for studying those alternatives for animal experimentation. When there are no good alternatives available, researchers have to consider if the research can be postponed until a good alternative are developed. While being able to justify the experiments on animals, researchers then have to be accountable for the absence of alternative options and the urge to obtain the knowledge immediately.[17]
  3. The principle of proportionality: responsibility for considering and balancing suffering and benefit: Researchers have to consider both the risks of pain and suffering that laboratory animals will face and assess them in the value of relationship to the research of animals, people, and the environment. Researchers have a responsibility on whether or not the research will have improvements for the animals, people or the environment. All of the possible benefits of the study has to be considered, substantiated and specified in both the short and long run. This responsibility also entails the obligation to consider both the scientific quality of the experiment and whether or not the experiment will have relevant scientific benefits. Suffering can only be caused by animals if there is a counterbalance of a substantial and probable benefits for animals, people or the environment. Since there are many methods of analyzing the harm and the benefits, research institutions have to provide training on suitable models and researchers have the responsibility to use the methods of analysis when planning any experiments on animals(see guideline 5).[17]
  4. Responsibility for considering reducing the number of animals (Reduce): Researchers have the responsibility to consider whether or not its acceptable to reduce the amount of animals that an experiments plan on using and include the number necessary to both the scientific quality of the experiments and the relevance to the results only. Before the experiment, researchers have to conduct reading studies and consider alternative designs and perform the calculations that are needed before beginning an experiment.[17]
  5. Responsibility for minimizing the risk of suffering and improving animal welfare (Refine): Researchers have the responsibility to assess the expected effect on laboratory animals. Researchers have to lessen the risk of suffering and provide excellent animal welfare. Suffering includes pain, hunger, malnutrition, thirst, abnormal cold/heat. fear, stress, illness, injury, and restrictions to where the animal can't be able to behave naturally and normally. To find out what is a considerable amount of suffering, a researcher's assessment should be based on which animal suffers the most. Considering the animals is the deciding factor if there are any doubts about regarding the suffering the animals will face. Researchers have to consider the direct suffering that the animal might endure during an experiment, but there are risks before and after the suffering, including breeding, transportation, trapping, euthanizing, labeling, anesthetizing, and stabling. This means that all the researchers has to take into account of the needs of periods for adaptation before and after an experiment.[17]
  6. Responsibility for maintaining biological diversity: Researchers are also responsible for ensuring that the use of laboratory animals don't disrupt or endanger biological diversity. This means that researchers have to consider the consequences to the stock and their ecosystem as a whole. The use of endangered species have to be reduced to a minimum. When there is credible and uncertain, knowledge that the inclusion of animals in research and the use of certain methods may have ethically unacceptable consequences for the stock and the ecosystem as a whole, researchers must observe the precautionary principle.
  7. Responsibility when intervening in a habitat: Researchers have a responsibility for reducing the disruption and any impact of the natural behaviors of the animals, including those who aren't a direct test subjects in research, as well as the population and their surroundings. Most research and technology-related projects, like the ones regarding environmental technology and surveillance, might impact the animals and their living arrangements. In those cases, researchers have to seek to observe the principle of proportionality and to decrease possible negative impact(see guideline 3).[17]
  8. Responsibility for openness and sharing of data and material: Researchers have the responsibility for ensuring the transparency of the research findings and facilitating sharing the data and materials from all animal experiments. Transparency and sharing are important in order to not repeat the same experiments on animals. Transparency is also important in order to release the data to the public and a part of researchers' responsibility for dissimulation. Negative results of the experiments on animals have should be public knowledge. Releasing negative results to other researchers could give them more on the information about which experiments that are not worth pursuing, shine a light on unfortunate research designs, and can help reduce the amount of animals use in research.
  9. Requirement of expertise on animals: Researchers and other parties who work and handle live animals are required to have adequately and updated documentation expertise on all animals. This includes knowledge about the biology of the animal species in question, and willingly be able to take care of the animals properly.
  10. Requirement of due care: There are many laws, rules, international convention, and agreements regarding the laboratory animals that both the researchers and the research managers have to comply with. Anyone who wants to use animals in experiments should familiarize themselves with the current rules.[17]


  1. Gannett, Jennifer (2011). "Confronting Animal Abuse: Law, Criminology, and Human-Animal Relationships". Journal for Critical Animal Studies 9. 
  2. "1641: Massachusetts Body of Liberties - Online Library of Liberty". 
  3. White, Chris. "Vegetarian Japan: A short history" (in en). 
  4. Bentham, Jeremy (1789). Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. 
  5. Uvarov, O. (1985). "Research with animals: requirement, responsibility, welfare". Laboratory Animals 19 (1): 51–75. doi:10.1258/002367785780890640. ISSN 0023-6772. PMID 3883054.
  6. "The History of the RSPCA | Animal Legal & Historical Center". 
  7. Gompertz, Lewis. 1997 [first edition: 1824]. Moral inquiries on the situation of man and of brutes, Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press.
  8. Carr, Daniel James (2017-10-31) (in en). The Historical Development of Animal Welfare Law in Nineteenth Century Scotland. Rochester, NY. 
  9. "History of the ASPCA" (in en). 
  10. "NAVS : About us : History : The history of the NAVS" (in en). 
  11. "Animals' Rights, Considered in Relation to Social Progress" (in en-GB). 
  12. "History" (in en). 
  13. Ryder, Richard. 2010 [1970]. "Speciesism: The original leaflet". Critical Society 2: 1-2.
  14. Kagan, Shelly (2016). "What's Wrong with Speciesism?". Journal of Applied Philosophy 33 (1): 1–21. doi:10.1111/japp.12164. 
  15. "30 years since the publication of Morals, reason and animals". 2017-07-25. 
  16. "Laboratory Animal Ethics: The Three Rs" (in en-US). 2017-02-21. 
  17. Monday, Text: The Norwegian National Committees for Research Ethics Photo: Maiken Aa Solbakken Last updated; September 24; 2018. "Ethical Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Research" (in en). 
Subjects: Ethics
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