History of Animal Bioethics

Animals as Tools

Alcmaeon of Croton

0500 BC

Brain not heart central organ of sense. Cut nerve behind eye to understand optic nerve function. Dissect humans.


0460 BC - 0370 BC

Observation and study of human body. Rational explanation for disease. Used chick eggs to study embryology.


0384 BC - 0322 BC

Man rational - head of life. Can use animals. Recognised similarities between physiology in man and animals

Galen of Pergamum

129 - 199

First record of vivisection. Study of anatomy. Animals don't have a soul or mind so can't feel pain. Screaming mechanical response.

St Thomas Aquinas

1225 - 1274

Only humans are rational, animals exist for human needs and have no moral status or soul.

William Harvey

1578 - 1657

Demonstrated blood circulation using vivisection. Public demonstrations. Caused a significant increase in vivisection.

Rene Descartes

1596 - 1650

Humanist philosophy. Soul distinguishes humans from all other animals. 'I think, therefore I am'. Beast machine - responses to pain are mechanical.

Francois Magendie

1783 - 1855

Public lectures and demonstrations involving vivisection.

Historical Periods


27 BC - 0476

Gladiators, animal slaughter, cruelty, entertainment.

Mediaeval Times

480 - 1350

Animals not rational but responsible for actions. People more worried about survival. Animals shared homes with people.


1350 - 1600

Renewed interest in science an philosophy.

Animals have Value


0106 BC - 0043 BC

Roman philosopher, compassion for animals

Ovid and Virgil

0070 BC

Roman poets, compassion for animals

Plutarch and Seneca

0004 BC - 120

Roman vegetarians

St Francis of Assisi

1181 - 1226

Patron saint of animals

Edmund O'Meara

1614 - 1681

Criticism of vivisection - agony suffered by animals distorts results. Rejected Harvey in favour of earlier theories of Galen. 'The miserable torture of vivisection surely places the body in an unnatural state'.

Samuel Johnson

1709 - 1784

Writer. Play 'The Idler'. Opposed to vivisection. Knowledge seldom obtained, and knowledge of physiology gained at expense of humanity.

Jeremy Bentham

1748 - 1832

'The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?' Founding father of modern utilitarianism.



SPCA gains royal patronage from Queen Victoria. Objects to vivisection in 1850s and Queen Victoria also objects in 1874.

The Home for Lost and Starving Dogs


Now Battersea Dog's Home


Immanuel Kant

1724 - 1804

Human autonomy. Actions are morally right in virtue of their motives - duty not inclination. The right actions are those that can be applied universally. Basis of animal rights.


Robert Boyle

1627 - 1691

Concern over welfare of animals. Convinced animal cost justified by benefits.

Robert Hooke

1635 - 1703

Concern over animal welfare - experimentation justified by benefits.

Marshall Hall

1790 - 1857

Five principles to govern animal experimentation. Eventually became basis of 1876 Cruelty Against Animals Bill.

Peter Singer


Bentham's modern heir. Utilitarian. The Animal Liberation Movement. Speciesism.


Agitation for Anti-Cruelty Laws


Butcher cut off sheep feet and made them run through town. They were not his sheep.

Martin's Act


Richard Martin (1754-1834) Offence to wantonly abuse animals that are the property of someone else. Can still abuse your own.

Jospeh Pease


1772 - 1846. 'Others property' clause removed from Martin's Act.

Cruelty to Animals Act


Protection of Animals Act


Performing Animals (Regulation) Act


Pet Animals Act


Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966


Zoo Licensing Act


Animal Health and Welfare Act


Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986


The Code of Practice for the Housing and Care


of Animals in Scientific Procedures 1989

Welfare of Animals at Slaughter


Animal Health Act


Animal Welfare Act


Animal Rights

Frances Power-Cobbe

1822 - 1904

Founded Victoria Street Society for the Protection of Animals from Vivisection. 1898 - British Union for Abolition of Vivisection. Still exists today.



Founded by Richard Martin (1754-1834). Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Tom Regan


Extended Kant's theory of dignity to animal's.