178 Use of Animals & Environment and Ethics

Animals and Ethics

At present, the majority of human beings act as if the circle of ethical consideration stops at the border of the human species, as if no non-human animals deserve true ethical consideration. Hence, we keep certain non-human animals as pets, kill them for food and sport, and perform countless experiments on them in labs without even wondering whether this violates ethical rules that we should pay attention to.

Thoughts for consideration are:

  • “Dogma of difference”: This is the idea that whatever our relationship to animals may be, it is the differences between us and them that should be emphasized, not the (mostly superficial) similarities.
  • Rene Descartes took the Christian idea that animals have no souls to its logical conclusion when he suggested that animals have much more in common with inanimate machines, such as clocks, than they do with human beings.
  • Biology suggests that we are much more closely related to other living things than we previously suspected.
  • Human needs: Until we provide some reasons why we should be permitted to use animals for food, research and entertainment without any moral consideration, we will not have a leg to stand on.
  • Kant’s view of morality is a relation of strict equality based on the rational recognition that another counts just as much as I do.
  • Animal Welfare: As long ago as the late 18th century, the British Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham claimed that animals deserve moral consideration to the extent that they can feel pain.
  • Animal rights: Utilitarian arguments alone cannot possibly be the basis for objecting to all uses of animals by humans that are currently the norm.
  • Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (https://www.nal.usda.gov/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-welfare-act)

Ethics and the Environment

Philosophical Ethics. George W. Matthews, Plymouth State University. Copyright Year: 2020. Attribution CC BY-SA (https://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/textbooks/philosophical-ethics)

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

—Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

 The assumption that there are no limits to human activity is perhaps clearest in the realm of economic activity.

Thoughts for consideration could be:

 We “add value” to raw materials when we convert them into particular products, and thus we seem to get more value out of the process for free.

  • Potentially negative impacts of economic activity, impacts such as pollution and resource depletion that seem to accompany many manufacturing processes as well as other human activities like transportation.
  • The loss of biodiversity, or put more simply, the currently unfolding mass extinction of species.
  • Our welfare depends on the stability of the climate, on the existence of biodiversity, and on the availability of energy resources.
  • The interconnections between organisms, each of which depend on other organisms for their own survival. The “biotic community” is the network of interdependent organisms that make up a given ecosystem and that we ignore at our peril.


Additional Resources:

Philosophical Ethics. George W. Matthews, Plymouth State University. Copyright Year: 2020. Attribution CC BY-SA (https://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/textbooks/philosophical-ethics)

Hubrecht, R. (2011). Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, Eighth Edition 2011 The Committee for the Update of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (2011). Published by the National Research Council of the National Academies, Washington DC, USA. https://grants.nih.gov/grants/olaw/guide-for-the-care-and-use-of-laboratory-animals.pdf




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Biology Part I Copyright © 2022 by LOUIS: The Louisiana Library Network is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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