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It is commonly held that ethics is about how we ought to treat other human beings. On this view, how we ought to treat animals is not properly part of ethics, or at best, if the treatment of animals is included within ethics at all, then animals have a second-class moral status. We have the right to use them as we see fit, to satisfy our needs and desires without regard to their interests, as long as we do not engage in gratuitous cruelty.

In the pages that follow, I shall argue that this standard view of our moral responsibilities to animals is indefensible. In order to act ethically towards animals, we need to change both our attitudes to animals, and the way in which we treat them and make use of them. First, however, it will be helpful to see from where our current attitudes to animals have come.