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Why don't humans think of all lives as equal, and instead that other creatures'

Why don't humans think of all lives as equal, and instead that other creatures' lives hold more importance than others? For example a human kills an animal such as cows or pigs and no one (except animal rights activists and the like) has a problem with that, but if that same person killed another human they would be charged and sent to prison. In both cases a life is taken but (one human) and that person's life for some reason holds more importance than the animal's.

It is crucial, I think, to recognize that the relevant question here is not: Are the lives of humans more valuable than the lives of (other) animals? The objection to killing animals need not presuppose that animals' lives and humans' lives are of equal value. Most defenders of animal rights would not, I think, hold such a view. Their claim, rather, is that animals' lives are of sufficiently great value that they ought not to be killed. Note that saying that animals ought not to be killed does not imply that it is never morally permissible to kill an animal. Humans ought not to be killed, but most people would hold that it is sometimes morally permissible to kill human beings, for example, in self-defense. If (say) cows lives are of less value than are the lives of humans, then there may be circumstances in which it is permissible to kill a cow but in which it would not be permissible to kill a human being. But it does not follow from that fact that it is permissible to kill a cow just because you feel like it, or because you would like a leather jacket, or because you would like some filet mignon. Maybe it is permissible to kill a cow for such reasons and maybe it is not, but it does not follow that it is if cows' lives and humans' lives are not of equal value.

My own view, though, is that talk of "value" is not really appropriate here. I think Nicholas is right to suggest that the real question here is: What kind of life does a creature have to have in order that it should be impermissible to kill it (or to harm it in certain other ways)? The question will then be whether there are animals other than human beings that meet the relevant conditions, whatever they might be.

'Zoophiles', as they call themselves, often claim that committing sexual acts

'Zoophiles', as they call themselves, often claim that committing sexual acts with animals is okay because animals are capable of consenting, either by sexual displays (lifting tails, humping hapless human legs, etc), or by not biting/fighting back, or by allowing the human access to them, so to speak. The problem I have with this is that an animal can't attribute the same idea to sex as a human can - for a human sex may be bound up with love and other types of emotions where by and large for animals it is another biological duty. In my opinion that would mean that there is no real consent between an animal and a human because the two are essentially contemplating a different act. Am I missing something here? And is there any validity in the idea that it is wrong to engage in sex with animals because for most humans it is intuitively wrong? If it doesn't really harm anyone - if the animal is unscathed - does that make the whole argument pointless?

I haven’t given much thought to the ethics of sex between humans and non-humans, but it seems to me that the fact that sex between humans requires consent does not imply that sex involving non-human animals requires consent. We require consent in sexual relations between human beings because we believe that making informed choices about intimate relationships is a significant good for human beings. Such choices cannot be part of a good life for non-human animals because such animals are permanently incapable of making them. That’s not to say that non-human animals are to be used as one pleases; it’s simply to say that whether consent occurs or does not occur cannot be a relevant consideration.

In your opinion, is it OK to kill a spider, or a fly?

In your opinion, is it OK to kill a spider, or a fly? I'm sure everyone has done so at some stage and felt no guilt, or only just a fleeting moment of sadness at the life just ended. But, should we go out of our way to avoid the killing of other living things, even seemingly insignificant insects? Can we allow ourselves this luxury on the basis that these are so much "lower" creatures as ourselves and therefore not worth bothering about? I would appreciate your thoughts on this.

Environmental philosophers have done a lot of work exploring what sort of "moral consideration" we should accord non-human life. For some discussion of this, see my answer to this question.

When someone accepts responsibility for a pet, what are the moral and ethical

When someone accepts responsibility for a pet, what are the moral and ethical imperatives they are (or should be) committing to? What is the appropriate context for making decisions about whether the pet is to be kept safely indoors (probably living longer) or let free to roam outdoors (with all the risks that carries)? Or whether to give an ailing pet expensive surgery or have them put them to sleep? Some people feel that their pet is deserving of or entitled to the same care as their own children. Others feel some lesser committment is sufficient. And so on. How does one make such decisions if not by analogy to ones obligations to other humans, which many of us fail to fulfill anyway?

The way you put this question seems to presuppose an approach to ethical reasoning that is driven by rules (imperatives). For those of us attracted to others approaches (in my case, virtue theory), it is difficult to respond to your inquiry in that form. Moreover, I think the context in which you plan to have the pet and what kind of pet you plan to have are extremely significant. Consider how differently one should answer questions like yours if the pets in question are goldfish or dogs. So let's assume you mean a very standard pet, such as a dog or a cat. Now, do you live in the country, where the dog is not going to foul sidewalks, potentially menace pedestrians or bicyclists, be at risk for being hit by a car (which could also put others at risk, from drivers swerving to avoid hitting your pet), or attack others' pets in the street? If the context is a city or similar, then it looks like you will be obliged to keep your dog leashed at all times when outside the home. In the case of a cat, it is difficult to think what a good ground could be for allowing the animal to go outside in a city environment. In the country, are their predators (or dogs!) around that might attack the cat? Are there livestock that a dog or cat might jeopardize?

In general, I think a rule of thumb would be to consider the morally significant elements of the environment in question (such as those I mention above), and then consider your animal's own needs and welfare as well as your readiness to deal with these in a humane and loving way. You might also consider whether adopting an animal likely to be euthanized at the local animal shelter wouldn't be a better idea than buying some fancy breed--and then be sure to neuter the animal. As for the resources you are prepared to spend on the animal, consider balancing these against other possible uses for those resources, if it looks like extraordinary care is going to be required--without neglecting the reasons you have a pet in the first place, which strict consequentialists might not find morally supportable, but which seem to me to be morally significant in themselves.

Is fishing unethical? Always unethical? What do the panelists feel and why?

Is fishing unethical? Always unethical? What do the panelists feel and why? BW

If fish feel pain, then I cannot see how it could be easily justified. Even if they don't feel pain, fishing might mean interrupting their lives unjustifiably, if we were to keep them out of the water, although if we were to throw them back this would not be such a problem. Of course, it might be that we would need to fish to stay alive, and then a new set of considerations come in. But unless some good argument can be produced to show that fish as a life form are not deserving of consideration, I cannot see how fishing is morally acceptable.

The questioner for

The questioner for http://www.amherst.edu/askphilosophers/question/149 got the question wrong, so the response was wrong too. The question isn't do animals feel pain, because the consensus among animal behavorists is that they certainly do experience pain sensations which are in almost every way akin to the pain which humans feel. The correct question is whether animals can experience "suffering", and by extension, whether it is possible to "torture" an animal. For example, if someone were to step on your toe accidentally, a human (or animal) would feel a sensation of pain. But the pain would be momentary, and you wouldn't "suffer" from it unless you thought they had done it on purpose or vindictively. For that matter, a human can be harmed or "suffer" from some real or imagined act done to them when there is no pain (or even when there is pleasure) associated with the event. The argument being made by some researchers is that all animals (including apes, dolphins, etc.) except humans lack the...

A few points. First, I don't understand why you think one can't suffer without reflecting on the reasons for one's pain. That just seems false, and the OED seems to agree with me:

suffer (v.) To have (something painful, distressing, or injurious) inflicted orimposed upon one; to submit to with pain, distress, or grief.

Nor do I see why one cannot be tortured if one cannot reflect in this way. And again, the OED would seem to agree:

torture (v.) 2. To inflict severe pain or suffering upon; to torment; to distress orafflict grievously; also, to exercise the mind severely, to puzzle orperplex greatly. Also absol. to cause extreme pain.

That said, it's an interesting empirical question to what extent animals are capable of "reflect[ing] upon the reasons for or context of the pains they experience". So far as I know, however, the view you ascribe to "some researchers" is not a majority view.

I've noticed that when people show a lot of affection towards their pets, for

I've noticed that when people show a lot of affection towards their pets, for example claiming that the pet is their best friend or grieving for a very long period of time after the pet dies or paying for expensive veterinary care even for relatively minor injuries/illnesses, other people are quite scornful and say things like, 'It's only a dog' or think that the person is crazy. This seems unfair to me. If someone did that for another human it would be seen as honourable. Why is animal companionship seen as less valuable as human companionship, or the affection that a person can feel for a pet less important than what they can feel for a human friend? It's the same thing as that most people would often rather kill a goat than kill another person. Why do we value the lives of animals so much less than humans? Is it just natural to care more about what is like us (like an extended version of racism?) Or is it because we attribute most importance to a human degree of intelligence or emotion? Should it be...

You make several points here, and I may not respond to all of them. But first, there may be any number of reasons why people regard non-human animals as not meriting the same degree of moral regard as human beings. I think (given the format of this site) it is probably best here simply to provide some basic indication of how this might be appropriate, so think of it in terms of how we value reciprocal relationships. We value our pets, in this way of thinking, because they really do reciprocate our attentions and affections--at least, as far as they are able to do so. But the reciprocation that is possible between human beings and their pets is limited--far more limited than the reciprocation that is possible between human beings. So it may not simply be a matter of valuing certain traits (e.g. intelligence) in a prejudicial way, so much as the ways in which such traits allow for richer (and more reciprocal) relationships.

As for religion's regard for non-human animals, it will really depend upon the religion. The religions of South and East Asia (Buddhism and Hinduism, for examples) tend to value animals more greatly than those with their roots in the Middle East (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Recall that in Genesis, we are told that God gave human beings dominion over non-human animals, with the implication that the other animals came into existed for our use (e.g. as food, or as beast of burden).

If it was proved tomorrow that plants can feel pain, what would happen to the

If it was proved tomorrow that plants can feel pain, what would happen to the arguments of vegetarians who are vegetarians because they don't believe in causing animals pain?

The main way we cause pain to aminals is through the way we raise them in factory farms, so even if plants could feel pain (though like Richard, I bet they don't), we might be able to grow and harvest them without causing them any more pain than, say, we cause a free-range chicken. But if forcing them to grow in those straight rows causes them severe and prolonged distress....

If Cheese is made of bacteria culture, and bacteria is alive, is it wrong to eat

If Cheese is made of bacteria culture, and bacteria is alive, is it wrong to eat cheese and yogurt? Or plants and anything else that is alive? If so, why do we have laws to protect people, animals, and other multi-organism beings, but not bacteria, which plays just as inportant, or even a more important role, than say a cat?

What role? Not the role of my companion. What makes a role "important"? Note that much of the "role" bacteria plays is that of food for other organisms. Like that of Titus Andronicus, some important roles end in suffering and death.

So, I don't think the concept of "important role" will explain laws prohibiting the killing and tormenting of various organisms. For my own part, I look to three features of some organisms that distinguish them from others and justify protections and cultivation: (1) the capacity for conscious suffering; (2) the capacity to engage in projects and practices of value (like writing philosophy, making art, building just societies, sustaining families, advanciing learning and wisdom); and (3) the capacity to contribute to the diminishment of conscious suffering and or the support of projects and practices of value. This set of criteria provides a hierarchy of organisms, but not a terribly clean one (I like that about it). Some bacteria are worthy of protction or cultivation because of 3. Cats share 1 and 3, maybe a bit of 2. Humans 1, 2, and 3 in clear and compelling ways--usually, but not always.

Why do vegetarians, vegans, etc. propose a different set of rules for animals?

Why do vegetarians, vegans, etc. propose a different set of rules for animals? After all, humans are animals too. Why can a lion kill and eat an antelope wheras a human cannot? Why does it matter that we do not 'need too'?

I agree with Alex that animals are not morally accountable: they cannot be morally blameworthy (or praiseworthy). What is harder to explain is why we don't have a responsibility to prevent animals from hurting each other. This is an unnatural thought, yet perhaps technically we would have this responsibility, if we could also find an alternative diet for the natural carnivores. But given how awful is our own treatment of animals, we should perhaps concentrate on getting our own act together first.

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