Gary L. Francione


On his book Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation

Cover Interview of January 31, 2010

In a nutshell

For most of us, the central issue of animal ethics is our treatment of animals.  We believe that animals have some moral value but that we are morally justified in using them as long as we treat them “humanely” and do not impose “unnecessary” suffering on them.  Animals as Persons: Essays on the Abolition of Animal Exploitation is a collection of essays that attempts to shift the paradigm from one that focuses on treatment to one that focuses on use.  The book argues that we cannot justify using animals as human resources, irrespective of whether our treatment is “humane.”  Animals as Persons presents the abolitionist theory of animal rights.

In the opening chapters of the book, I discuss this distinction between treatment and use.  We recognize as a non-controversial matter that all humans, irrespective of their particular characteristics, have the right to be treated as persons, which is another way of saying that they have the right not to be treated as property.  We cannot justify denying this one right to nonhuman animals; we cannot justify using nonhuman animals for food, clothing, hunting, entertainment, biomedical experiments or for other purposes.

As a historical matter, we have tried to justify our animal use by pointing to the supposed cognitive differences between humans and nonhumans.  Any such differences between humans and animals may be relevant for some purposes but are simply not relevant to our treatment of animals as our property, as things that exist exclusively as means to our ends.

I also argue that animal welfare reform has, as a practical matter, failed because animals are chattel property and we generally protect animal interests only to the extent that we derive an economic benefit from doing so.  Moreover, these meaningless reforms are characterized as significant by animal protection organizations that promote them in fundraising campaigns; as a result, reforms make the public feel more comfortable about continued animal exploitation.

Animals as Persons presents a theory that goes considerably beyond Peter Singer’s utilitarian view and is highly critical of the animal protection movement.  I reject the idea that is currently promoted by all the large animal groups that the solution to the problem of animal exploitation is to develop a market for “happy” meat and animal products that have supposedly been produced “humanely.”

The book also contains a discussion of vivisection, or the use of animals in experiments, which I regard as morally unjustifiable (irrespective of any benefit) but as raising different and more complicated questions than the use of animals for food; an extended response to a critique of my theory by Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School, presently Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs; and a critique of feminist theory as applied to the issue of animal exploitation.