"As humans we have the power to affect the lives of entire species of animals. What moral responsibilities do we have towards them?"
As humans we have the power to affect the lives of entire species of animals. What moral responsibilities do we have towards them?
Animals cannot be held morally responsible for their actions. However, that does not mean that they don’t have moral worth. In fact, it is reasonable to infer that we, as rational beings, have a moral responsibility towards animals. But what does that entail?
According to John Stuart Mill, “the ultimate end” of morality is “an existence exempt as far as possible from pain, and as rich as possible in enjoyments…secured to all mankind; and not to them only, but, so far as the nature of things admits, to the whole sentient creation.” The inclusion of animals in our moral circle does not imply, however, that humans and animals are of equal moral value. Yet the fact remains that we share many morally relevant traits, such as a capacity for suffering. When it comes to the treatment of animals, argues Jeremy Bentham, “the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”
The animal industry—in particular, the meat and dairy industry—inflicts suffering on billions of creatures whose neurological anatomy and observable behavior leave no doubt that they experience pain and fear just as we do. In today’s civilized world, virtually all of this suffering could easily be avoided, which makes it all the more imperative that we do so. The animals we consume may not be our equals, but this does not mean that human pleasure and convenience morally justify their suffering. Not to mention the enormous environmental costs of animal agriculture, one of the top contributors to greenhouse-gas emissions and a leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution, and biodiversity loss. uncommongroundmedia.com/...
However we define our moral responsibility towards animals, it should be based not on convenience, habit, or taste but on evidence, reason, and compassion
This brings us to the issue of habitat destruction and conservation. If we have a moral obligation to treat animals not just as means to an end but as ends in themselves, we also have a responsibility to protect—or, at least, not to destroy—their basis of life. Indeed, there is a case to be made for the creation of additional habitats through rewilding. At the very least, we should consider other species’ interests as we advance our own.
Heterodox literary and cultural studies scholar, writer, and musician based in Vienna. Twitter: @g_ambrosch
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