Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Catharine Grant, "The No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights"

(Between the Lines, 2006)

This May I'll be teaching a mini-university enrichment course to Ontario and Quebec students from grades 8 to 11. The course I've designed is called "Philosophy and Animal Rights". The students will be introduced to some basic questions and themes of philosophy by thinking about animals. Roughly, we'll look at metaphysics (is there an ontological disctinction between humans and animals? Is there an evolutionary ladder?), epistemology (how do we know what animals are thinking and feeling, if anything? How do we know what other people are thinking and feeling, for that matter?), and of course, ethics (where do right and wrong come from? Are there moral limits to what we can do to an animal? Are animals inherently valuable, valuable relative to human concerns, or both?). It should be said that I'm a vegan (with some freegan tendencies, to be sure!), so there is certainly a danger that this introduction to philosophy will turn into animal rights propaganda. But then I expect the students who chose this course over the others offered are already to some extent curious about or even committed to questions of animal rights. It should be interesting to see how these dynamics play themselves out.

In preparing for the course, I've found an invaluable resource in Toronto scholar and activist Catharine Grant's "The No-Nonsense Guide to Animal Rights". The No-Nonsense Guides comprise a series which, though I haven't read them all, gives me an overall positive impression. Grant's contribution in particular is wonderfully succinct and, true to its title, no-nonsense. She gives a basic understanding of the distinction between animal welfare and animal rights views, the main moral arguments surrounding animal rights (i.e. Singer and Regan), and provides a wealth of information about the true costs, to animals, humans, and the environment, of the various animal industries. She also gives organic husbandry its due, though she flags it as problematic. Best of all, she argues that animal rights activism is neither necessarily the province of affluent Northerners, nor ignorant of interlocking systems of oppression. She takes an anti-corporate, arguably anti-capitalist stand against animal industries, and thereby situates the struggle against them with respect to wider struggles for social justice.

In short, Grant's book is excellent. Those who are curious about animal rights, but who don't have the time or energy to pore over such paving stone sized volumes as Regan's The Case for Animal Rights, need look no further.

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