The Moral Difference between Animals and Humans
A moral issue is generally considered to be one which arises from the need to take another person’s interests into consideration. However, by saying another person’s interests this seems to rule out the interests of animals from the moral debate. Although many people do value animals, there are still others who consider animals as no more than a source of food. It could be argued that our primary moral obligations towards those people who value animals includes secondary obligations towards the animals they value. The problem then is that we have no secondary obligations towards those animals which are not valued by people. Consequently those animals would have no moral rights. Despite that argument we still feel that it is morally wrong to inflict certain actions, such as torture, on animals. We should, therefore, consider the possibility that animals do have moral rights. If we change the initial statement to read ‘a moral issue is one which arises from the need to take another living being’s interests into consideration’ we can then consider what gives a living being moral rights, and what moral difference there is between animals and humans.
The interests of others may range from simple hobbies to caring for the sick. Obviously these interests have differing levels of moral importance. Although there are a number of moral principles that we could use as examples, let us consider two which are most relevant to animals and humans. They are, the right to individual freedom, and the right not to suffer harm from another. Humans expect these rights from each other, but do not necessarily grant them to animals. What is it then that gives humans these rights but not animals? Lan…
…a danger. But the animal’s actions do not immediately change from watching to attacking. Instead, the bear moves from a state of watching to one of preparing for attack and displays this change in the form of prowling. During that process the bear is making a judgment which is displayed by either attacking or not attacking depending on whether or not I pose a danger. By not attacking, the bear is displaying consideration for an other which is a basic form of moral judgment. It could, therefore, be argued that to the extent that certain animals display similar behaviour they then deserve moral consideration from us.
Dennett, Daniel C. Brainchildren (Penguin, 1998) Essay 24
Klempner, G. Reason, Values and Conduct Unit 13
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Sprigge, T.L.S. The Rational Foundation of Ethics (Routledge 1990)