How will these resources help you? 

As of 2021, there are 33 countries that recognise non-human sentience worldwide. The distinction between sentience and non-sentience is difficult to unpick – lessons on the moral status of animals can range from dualism and ensoulment to behavioural psychology and self-awareness. The resources suggested here offer a variety of perspectives on our moral responsibility towards the non-human world and include several case studies and thought experiments that help our students to challenge their own preconceived ideas. 

Speciesism and the importance of minimising suffering

Animal Liberation

by Peter Singer, published by Penguin Books, (2015), 9781847923844

Renowned moral philosopher Peter Singer was unique in his approach not to construct a case for non-human moral status based on ‘rights’ but instead on the utilitarian principle of minimising suffering. This classic text has excellent links to several GCSE and A-level courses. For example, Singer discusses the perception of animals in the Old vs New Testament (Jesus’ indifference to 2000 pigs plunging from a cliff) as part of a challenge against the sanctity of life being afforded to human beings. He also critiques Descartes’ view that consciousness is located within the soul and thus animals are mere machines or ‘automata’. Additionally, he grapples with Aquinas’s assertion that the purpose of non-human animals is to exist for our own benefit and accuses Rome’s adaptation of his works as speciesist (by promoting animal compassion only to promote compassion towards other humans). 

Thought experiments and animal rights

The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten: And 99 Other Thought Experiments

by Julian Baggini, published by Granta Books, (2010), 9781847081285

This engaging introduction to the major philosophical conundrums is described as ‘100 experiments for the armchair philosopher’ and is perfect for Philosophy students who are looking to put their analytical skills to the test. The title references Douglas Adam’s book The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and describes a pig called Priscilla with a lifetime ambition to be eaten. Teachers could use this example with students as an interesting segue into a discussion around the ethics of eating meat – whether willingly given or lab-grown (i.e., cultivated meat). 

An apologist take on animal rights

Is 'Animal Rights' a Biblical Concern? A Christian Response to the Modern Animal Rights Movement

by Dan Story, published by Christian Research Institute, (2015)

This article addresses both sides of the animal rights debate from a Christian apologist’s perspective. Many students will be familiar with the references to both philosophers and scripture; for example, Story criticises Singer’s assertion that the life of a severely disabled newborn is of less value than that of a dog or chimpanzee. He also uses scripture to reject the notion that animals exist simply to serve humans, for example, using God’s response to Job, ‘Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn...?’ (Job 39:1, 6, 27) to point out that many creatures exist without us ever encountering them and thus cannot exist for our benefit. 

Do animals think?

Inside the minds of animals

by Bryan B Rasmussen, published by TEDEd, (2015)

This is a useful TedEd resource filled with examples of animals deemed to have intelligence, including Darwin’s study on earthworms’ navigation of space, ‘Clever Hans’ (the horse who could ‘count’) and how bees communicate locations of food sources. This video creates an opportunity to explore in depth what ‘consciousness’ means and how it links to the moral status of animals. 

Audiovisual clip

Matters of Life and Death - Is it ever right to experiment on animals?

published by BBC Two, (2015)

Two opposing viewpoints on the justifications for and against animal testing with regard to the human species and morals

Further Materials

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, published by HarperCollins, (2017), 9780008218430 Find this book
Moral Standing, The Value of Lives and Speciesism by R.G. Frey, published by Bowling Green State University, (1987) Read this article
Beyond Belief: Veganism, published by BBC Radio 4, (2019) Listen to this podcast
UK could allow animal tests for cosmetic ingredients for first time since 1998 by Natalie Grover, published by The Guardian, (2021) Read this article
Lucy Kentish is Head of Religious Studies and a South Coast Adviser for a MAT. She is part of a national leadership scheme for RE, has developed curriculums and resources for various schools and also works as an examiner for Eduqas.

Text © Lucy Kentish, 2023.