Animal ethics is the branch of ethics that studies the moral responsibility of the human species towards other animals. This discipline examines the moral judgments that can be made on the current treatment of animals and asks questions about our duties to them as well as their possible rights.
This branch of this philosophical discipline of ethics thus tackles many subjects: animal rights, animal law, animal welfare, speciesism, animal cognition, the conservation of wild fauna, the suffering of wild animals, the moral status of non-human animals, the concept of non-human personality, anthropocentrism, the history of animal use as well as theories of justice.
Several different theoretical approaches are proposed in the study of this field, according to the different theories currently defended in moral and political philosophy. There is no one theory that is fully accepted due to the different interpretations of what ethics means, but some are more widely accepted by society, such as animal rights and utilitarianism.
The establishment of regulations in animal experimentation was a fundamental step towards the development of animal ethics, because it was at this point that the concept emerged in these terms. Previously, this concept was only associated with the issue of acts of cruelty, which only changed at the end of the 20th century, when it turned out that the uses of animals had changed. The American Animal Welfare Act of 1966 attempted to tackle the problems of animal testing.
Ethical thinking has influenced the way society views animal ethics in at least three ways. On the one hand, the early emergence of animal ethics about how animals should be treated. Second, the evolution of animal ethics as people began to realize that this ideology was not as simple as the one originally proposed. Finally, it influences through the challenges that humans are confronted with within the framework of this ethics: consistency of morals and justification of certain cases.
Consequentialism is a set of ethical theories which judge the merits or the evil of an action on its consequences: schematically, if actions bring more good than bad, they are good, and if they bring more harm than good, they are bad. One of the best-known theories of consequentialism is utilitarianism.
The publication of Peter Singer’s book, Animal Liberation in 1975, sparked great interest and provided him with a platform to speak out on animal rights. Due to the special attention he has received, his opinions have been the most accessible and therefore are best known to the general public. He supports the theory of utilitarianism, which is still a controversial basis but widely used to frame animal experimentation. This theory asserts that an action is fair if and only if it produces a better balance of benefit and harm than the available alternative actions; thus, this theory determines if something is right by evaluating the ratio between pleasure and harm. suffering from the result of this thing. It is not interested in the process, only the weight of the consequence, and while the theory of consequentialism suggests whether an action is bad or good, utilitarianism focuses only on the benefit of the result. While this can be applied to some animal research and animal husbandry, several flaws in this theory have been raised.
Deontological ethics is an ethical theory that evaluates moral actions based solely on the fulfillment of one’s duty, and not on the consequences of one’s actions. This means that while it is your duty to accomplish a task, it is morally right to do it, no matter what the consequences, and if you fail in your duty, you are morally wrong. There are many types of ethical theories, however, the most commonly known is often associated with Immanuel Kant.
This ethical theory can be implemented from opposing parties, for example, a researcher may think it is his duty to make an animal suffer in order to find a cure for a disease which affects millions of humans, which, according to ethics, is morally correct. While on the other hand, an animal activist might think that saving these experimental animals is their duty, thus creating a contradiction. Another contradictory aspect of this theory is when an individual has to choose between two moral duties, for example whether an animal activist should decide whether to lie about the whereabouts of an escaped chicken from a farm, or if he has to tell the truth and condemn the chicken. Lying is immoral, but so is condemning a chicken.
One flaw highlighted in Kant’s theory is that it did not apply to non-human animals, but only to humans. This theory is opposed to utilitarianism in that instead of worrying about consequence, it focuses on duty.
Ethics of virtue
The ethics of virtue is based neither on the consequences nor on the duty of an action, but on the act of behaving like a virtuous person. It thus comes down to asking whether an action comes from a virtuous person or a vicious person. If it is from a virtuous person, it is said to be morally right, and if it is from a vicious person, it is said to be immoral behavior. A virtuous person has qualities such as respect, tolerance, justice and equality. One advantage of this theory over others is that it takes into account human emotions, affecting moral decision, which is absent in the other two theories. However, a downside is that people’s opinions of a virtuous person are very subjective and therefore can greatly affect the moral compass of the person. With this underlying problem, this ethical theory cannot be applied to all cases.
Link with environmental ethics
Different conceptions of the treatment and duties towards animals, especially those living in the wild, may clash between animal ethics and environmental ethics. They have been a source of conflict; some philosophers have argued that the two positions are incompatible, while others have argued that such disagreements can be overcome.