Every cow just wants to be happy. Every chicken just wants to be free. Every bear, dog, or mouse experiences sorrow and feels pain as intensely as any of us humans do. In a compelling appeal to reason and human kindness, Matthieu Ricard here takes the arguments from his best-sellers Altruism and Happiness to their logical conclusion: that compassion toward all beings, including our fellow animals, is a moral obligation and the direction toward which any enlightened society must aspire. He chronicles the appalling sufferings of the animals we eat, wear, and use for adornment or "entertainment," and submits every traditional justification for their exploitation to scientific evidence and moral scrutiny. What arises is an unambiguous and powerful ethical imperative for treating all of the animals with whom we share this planet with respect and compassion.
Buddhist monk and author Ricard (Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and Your World) makes a strong argument for treating animals with respect and compassion. In practice, he says, that means not eating them. Ricard is systematic and comprehensive in developing his case; he examines the conditions of contemporary meat production, the use of animals in experiments and for entertainment, the history of human-animal relations, and what contemporary ethology shows about animal consciousness. The most original part of his treatise is philosophical and ethical. He draws on well-known animal rights advocates such as Peter Singer and Tom Regan and also looks closely at moral philosophy, from Kantian ethics to the contemporary "trolley problem" of distinguishing between two evils. Given his monastic livelihood, it's surprising and disappointing that he does not draw more from Buddhism, which has a rich understanding of compassion. Instead he relies on sensational indictments of animal breeding developed by others such as novelist Jonathan Safran Foer and French journalist Aymeric Caron. Two chapters repackage prior work. Despite some flaws, the book makes an important contribution to the literature on animal rights.