The questions on the attitude to animals are among the most widely discussed in the world within the corresponding circles. Some of the scholars write about the necessity of putting all animals into the same equality line , whereas others are presenting the arguments on the reasons for why the use of animals in various researches especially in the medical sphere should be condemned . There are various points of view regarding animals’ rights; however, there is a need to find a consensus: what makes humans think that they can have moral rights and those who are non-humans cannot?
The thought-provoking question helps people realize both the scope of humans’ moral obligations and general nature of us as human beings. There will be always opponents who would argue that there is an easy possibility to distinguish humans from other creatures. For example, humans are different because they can play with others while hosting them as pets, cause pain if necessary even for treatment procedures, provoking suffering and death. At the same time, in respect to non-human animals, humans’ actions can be always justified especially in granting moral deliberation to other humans.
In order to explore this topic, various points of view are taken into consideration including those of various philosophers who argued over the differences between humans and animals; as a result the aforementioned question regarding animals’ treatment should be answered. Those debates, however, did not provide a solid philosophical background to defend humans regarding moral considerations of non-human animals.
Animals and Moral Deliberation
The question regarding who to consider a moral being is a wrong and irrelevant one. This claim is put by human beings who are the only one who both made it and are able to answer it. At the same time, the thought regarding the wrongness of only human beings cannot be easy to interpret.
Humans are Homo sapiens; however, belonging to this species does not necessarily mean that their moral claim should be considered exceptional. It is an undeniable fact that humans are Homo sapiens having corresponding genetic and distinctive physiological features. However, it does not matter from the moral point of view.
Belonging to certain species is an irrelevant characteristic on the moral part. At the same time, people can be considered moral because they possess distinctive human capacities such as solving societal problems, using language, starting wars, developing family ties, thinking abstractly, expressing emotions, having sex for pleasure etc.
However, many of the aforementioned activities that are meant to characterize only humans can occur in non-humans. In this case, a mother orangutan usually stays with her baby until the age of eight or ten years. Baboons, chimpanzees, elephants and wolves are those who maintain extended family units based on complex relationships.
At the same time, animals when living in social complex groups should be able to solve various problems. For example, chickens and horses are those who recognize others in their social hierarchies. Having a particular emotional state is one of the ways, which allows animals to negotiate in their social environments. While communicating, they demonstrate their emotional states and react depending on the state of their interlocutors.
Elephants, dogs and coyotes are also among those species that are reported to have the effects of grief . Despite the fact that many animals should struggle to survive, learn how to be aggressive and fight for their food and place under the sun, there are those non-humans whose lives, unlike the aforementioned group, are full of playfulness, sex, and joy .
Kant, in his Lectures on Ethics , states that we have indirect duties to animals. Moreover, those duties are considered being not towards the animals but in regard to them. Additionally, he is convinced that our treatment of animals can affect our personal duties. For example, if a human shoots his/her dog because it is not good for service anymore, he/she cannot fail in his/her duty to the dog as the latter cannot judge. However, his/her act is obviously considered as inhuman. It damages all humanities of the mankind.
Another argument is about the deliberation of human beings not being persons. Those are the ones who do not respect humanity and act in an inhumane way towards those who are non-humans in spite of species they belong to. However, this view fails to consider all wrong things that were done to those who are not persons. The example of those cases can be the rape of a woman who went into a coma, or quarrelling with a child whose brain is damaged. The same concerns animals like setting a cat on fire. Such behavior is not about disrespect of humanity; it is about damaging those who are not persons.
Regan argues about the significance of similarities but not the differences between non-humans and humans in regard to moral consideration . He explains that because persons share with certain non-persons the ability to be experiencing subject of a life. It includes both non-humans and humans who have some level of cognitive function and are characterized by an individual welfare, which is essential despite the fact what others think that they both deserve moral consideration.
Singer as one of the contemporary utilitarian representatives suggests that there is no justifiable way to exclude non-humans or non-persons from moral consideration . Thus, humans who do not want to suffer deserve their desire to be considered. At the same time, non-humans who act in order to avoid pain should be considered as those who have such a right.
When humans feel sorrow for an animal which suffers, that means there is a certain reason for that. The cry of an animal expresses pain. There is also a particular reason for that. They cry because they are uncomfortable with something and have a need to change the existing conditions. There are many instances when an animal obligates a person in exactly the same way as another person. Thus, we have obligations to animals and need to consider their suffering.
Animals and Moral Claims
The fact that non-human animals can make moral claims on us does not demonstrate how such claims can be assessed. In the case of conflicting claims, it is uneasy to indicate how they can be acknowledged as being moral. An animal`s moral claim is equivalent to a moral right. Thus, any action, which fails to treat animals accordingly violates their rights and it is considered morally objectionable. At the same time, according to the animal rights view, treating an animal as humans, for example, when they eat other animals or conducting experiments on them is also considered as violation of their rights.
There is a thought that animal rights are positioned is an absolutist position. Thus, any being that is considered a subject of life is worth existing and should have the rights to be protected. That makes us conclude that all subjects of life should possess those rights on the equal basis. For the aforementioned reason, any activity, which fails to respect the animals’ rights, for example, hunting and eating animals, conducting experiments on them or using animals for entertainment is considered wrong and irrespective of both human culture and basic needs.
Looking at the issue of vegetarianism, the utilitarian argument regarding the moral significance of animals` suffering, for example, in meat production cannot be an argument. Thus, if an animal, which was living happily, was painlessly killed and eaten by those who would otherwise suffer from hunger or serious health problems, then such an attitude would be morally justified, or, for example, if we consider the lactation period of a woman and her diet, where natural meat should be included in her ration in order to have all necessary vitamins and minerals which the baby will receive with milk.
At the same time, in some parts of the world where various conditions make it impossible for humans to be on vegetarian diets, killing animals for eating would not be objectionable in a moral sense. That can be connected with the cultural and economic peculiarities of those countries. As we see, the utilitarian position can avoid charges of moralization and cultural chauvinism, which are considered the charges, which cannot be avoided within the frames of animals’ rights.
It may be objected to suggest that it is morally acceptable to hunt and eat animals for those people, living in arctic regions, or for nomadic cultures representatives or just for poor rural people. At the same time, if violation of animals’ rights can be morally tolerated, for example, a right to life, then the aforementioned violations of the rights could be morally tolerated.
The aforementioned thought provoked two ideas. The first is regarding the negative effects, which can be promoted by killing animals. For example, if to kidnap and painlessly kill a person for the provision of body parts for a couple of individuals who will die without them, there could be negative side-effects, which would make the kidnapping process wrong. Thus, healthy humans if they know that could be used for spare parts might make themselves unhealthy to avoid such a fate. As we see, appealing to side-effects fails to demonstrate what is exactly wrong with killing.
There is also a multi-factor perspective, which is possible for some kinds of morally considerable beings. For example, an explorer of humans who finds himself face-to-face with a hungry representative of Inuit family: he/she has an interest in continued existence. However, we are not aware whether non-persons do not have it. Thus, there is a possibility to think that non-persons may have a different range of interests compared to persons.
To conclude, the position of animals’ rights takes absolute claim to be considered morally significant. For the aforementioned reasons, any use of animals, which is about a disregard for their moral claims is still problematic as calling an action to be morally justified or not still depends upon various factors. There are still many practices, which involve animals’ suffering and death and those cases may still be justified from the moral perspective.
Animals and Human Relations
Despite the fact that many consider non-humans as insignificant, there is another category of people who reject the aforementioned arguments. Nevertheless, most still realize the difficulty of task of arguing that humans have an exclusive moral status. However, among those who view animals within the frames of moral concern, there are many debates on the usefulness and nature of the arguments presented on behalf of the animals’ moral status.
The representatives of virtue ethics or neo-Aristotelian tradition argue that while our behavior towards animals is subject to moral scrutiny, the presented arguments look at this issue from the wrong perspective. They are convinced that such rational argumentation does not consider those features of moral element that let us see why bad animals’ treatment is wrong.
Diamond points out that animals are considered our community members. Despite the fact that we realize that and recognize our cruelty, we still do not treat them accordingly. Animals are those with whom we share our lives.
Considering eating animals again, a person, who strives to be moral, understands that eating animals is wrong because it actually violates their rights. At the same time, people while eating animals do not consider that such an act can create more suffering compared to other acts trying to balance the situation. However, using animals in harmful ways or eating them we never display peoples’ good traits of character, the ones that thoughtful and compassionate members of a moral community should actually display.
People usually never think of working out the arguments where animals’ moral significance and consideration are laid out. The attitudes of humans that affect or abuse non-human animals should be accurately analyzed. The attitudes should be changed, and treatment of animals as tools for research or food should be rejected.
Feminists are another group of people who also considered the argumentation methods that are used to establish animals’ moral status. For most of them, the existing traditional rational argumentation methods are unable to take into account the feelings of empathy or sympathy that humans experience towards non-humans. Feminists believe that feelings have a central place when we discuss the reasons why we decide to own non-humans and what we actually owe them.
Many feminists agree that peoples’ moral emotions move us to act compassionately towards animals. At the same time, they do not reject the scientific conclusions drawn by the utilitarian or rights-based theorists. The representatives of this group firmly believe that the criticism of the aforementioned theories is directed at the idea that these conclusions can change humans’ behaviors.
Feminists also consider the individualism as central in the discussions regarding the animals’ moral status. Instead of identification of innate or intrinsic properties that non-humans share with humans, properties are considered to be morally valuable, there are some feminists that argue about the need of people’s understanding of a moral status of animals based on the perspective of social practice.
Anderson states that moral consideration is not an “intrinsic property of any creature.” Everything depends on the kind of relations that animals have with us.
Environmental feminists also argue that the standard approaches to determining the moral status of animals are imperfect. Thus, they support the idea of the failure of the focus on individuals in isolation from their context. It does not take into account the political structures that deal with current practices in regard to animals’ rights.
Some eco-feminists draw a conceptual link between the logic of domination, which is aimed at reinforcing sexism and the logic, which supports the oppression of non-humans. They agree that everything depends on the implementation of those types of logic into individual and institutional practices, which otherwise can be harmful to both animals and women.
Feminists agree that gender hierarchies where men are considered to be superior to women share the same structure as hierarchies that separate humans from animals and justify human dominance over non-humans. Thus, the aforementioned differences can have a direct impact on attributing lesser or greater moral. So the eco-feminist perspective maintains the idea that none can be free unless everyone is free including non-human animals .
Various scholars in different ways state that non-human animals should possess the same rights as humans. However, the views are different because of various life situations and conditions in which people live. Some scholars agree that depending on geographical location, traditions and culture, animals killed in a painful way for eating is considered a moral act. At the same time, the questions of vegetarianism and personal health state also add to the aforementioned opinion. However, various views regarding the possibility and necessity of according rights to animals based on utilitarian, feminist or neo-Aristotle’s perspective add to the idea that those rights should be protected.
Humans, as Homo sapiens, should realize that the main fundamental rights that animals should have are the right to live and to be free from suffering. It includes various types of animals’ treatment when they are owned by someone.
People believe that the exploitation of animals should be acceptable in society. However, we are not the most important beings on the planet. It is not true that everything should be directed at ensuring human survival. It is not true that animals do not feel pain as compared to humans, and the aforementioned facts proved that. Thus, people should not kill animals for various purposes as it is still morally unacceptable.
It is an undeniable fact that there are various situations in life that make us believe that death of a few animals can save hundreds of peoples’ lives, but as we are all equal, we should all have equal rights. Only then we can be proud of ourselves as humans and there is a chance that such questions as avoiding environmental catastrophes and living according to sustainable development principles will take a totally different direction.