Beyond Morality: Developing a New Rhetorical Strategy for the Animal Rights Movement

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

First published in the Fall 2011 issue of the Journal of Animal Ethics. You can read a response by Per-Anders Svärd in the same issue of the journal.


Peter Singer ended the last chapter of the 2002 edition of Animal Liberation, the seminal volume first published in 1975 and widely credited with starting the modern animal rights movement, by asking his readers to reflect on the future of the movement’s main project:

Will our tyranny continue, proving that morality counts for nothing when it clashes with self-interest, as the most cynical of poets and philosophers have always said? Or will we rise to the challenge and prove our capacity for genuine altruism by ending our ruthless exploitation of the species in our power, not because we are forced to do so by rebels or terrorists, but because we recognize that our position is morally indefensible? (p. 248)

In this article, I attempt to answer these questions by examining recent successes and failures of the movement, limitations inherent in the movement’s reliance on emotional appeals and rights/sentience-based moral arguments as the key elements of its rhetorical strategy, and alternative rhetorical strategies that address some of those weaknesses. (The fact that Singer had to ask the previously quoted questions in 2002, a quarter century after the first edition of Animal Liberation was published, suggests that the moral arguments employed by the movement do, indeed, have limitations.) Read more →

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