Animal ethics is a broad field that concerns the relationship between humans and animals. It encompasses issues related to philosophy, animal rights, veganism, industrial and scientific exploitation of animals, religious views on how they should be treated, and others. The need to consider such aspects arose from a gradual understanding that animals are not inferior to humans and deserve respect, although a certain hierarchy still exists. This essay will highlight some of the problems discussed in animal ethics and determine the current situation.
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Animal ethics is based on the idea that animals are sentient and have sufficient cognitive capacities. Thus, they have preferences and experiences, imposing a moral obligation on humans to treat them as equal individuals (Huth 236). Another essential concept is vulnerability, which arises from the special relationship shared by humans and animals and the latter’s dependency (Huth 245). However, some may interpret it differently, depending on whether moral individualism or relationalism prevails (Huth 238). Altogether, the philosophical foundation of animal ethics is diverse and suggests different explanations, but the recognition of animal sentience remains central.
Animal rights are becoming a prominent topic in some countries’ politics. They are closely related to the concept of justice in animal ethics, which suggests that animals are sentient beings and require a political order that would serve their interests (Cochrane et al. 272). Some believe that only certain types of non-human animals should be protected, while others intend to include wild ones, too (Cochrane et al. 272). Animal rights supporters also consider such issues as animal-friendliness when applied to institutions, representation, and equality, which are difficult to define (Cochrane et al. 272). Currently, the movement is still developing, and animals may become a political power someday.
The question of meat consumption is one of the pillars of animal ethics, and those who are against the practice tend to choose veganism or vegetarianism. They differ in the degree of acceptance of animal-derived food, which the former completely reject (Lind et al. 90). While vegans support animal rights in most cases and consider meat consumption unethical, vegetarians may have other reasons for subscribing to the diet (Lind et al. 100-101). Thus, for some, eating habits rooted in abstinence are an organic part of their views.
Some industries, such as the textile one, and science are notable for their cruel treatment of animals. Millions of animals suffer deaths through suffocation or electrocution for fur, and before that, they live in dirty conditions (Gardetti 50). Moreover, companies are not transparent about their production means, making it difficult for animal rights proponents to purchase clothes ethically (Gardetti 50). As for researchers, they tend to use animals to study diseases (Cheluvappa et al. 2). However, a shift toward the 3 “R” principles (replacement, reduction, and refinement) is happening, and more alternatives, such as human-derived tissues, are being developed, leading to more ethical approaches in science (Cheluvappa et al. 3, 9). Overall, the described fields significantly contribute to animal abuse, but the outside pressure and new policies may force them to change their approaches.
Animal ethics has a different meaning depending on a person’s religion. For instance, Buddhism considers the animal realm evil, although it does not necessarily condone animal killing (Caruana 9). On the other hand, Jainism, which also originated from India, is strictly against the act (Caruana 9). Abrahamic religions imply moral obligations towards animals but do not consider them equal, permitting their slaughter for survival, which should be done in a specific way (Caruana 10). Generally, religions maintain anthropocentrism, viewing animals as inferior, and simultaneously condemn violence, so a religious person may sympathize with animal rights.
The underlying goal of animal ethics attempts to improve the lives of non-human animals. It can be done through lobbying, personal habits, protesting, and a better understanding of one’s beliefs. Some think that pets are superior to other animals, disregarding their sufferings, silently supporting the exploiting industries, and rejecting the concept of vulnerability. Ultimately, animal rights may become feasible and outlaw the cruel practices, but before that, people should acknowledge the harm they are causing to other sentient beings.
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Caruana SJ, Louis. “Different Religions, Different Animal Ethics?” Animal Frontiers, vol. 10, no. 1, 2020, pp. 8–14. Oxford Academic, doi:10.1093/af/vfz047.
Cheluvappa, Rajkumar, et al. “Ethics of Animal Research in Human Disease Remediation, Its Institutional Teaching; and Alternatives to Animal Experimentation.” Pharmacology Research & Perspectives, vol. 5, no. 4, 2017, e00332 (pp. 1-14). Wiley Online, doi:10.1002/prp2.332.
Cochrane, Alasdair, et al. “Animal Ethics and the Political.” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, vol. 21, no. 2, 2016, pp. 261–277. Taylor & Francis Online, doi:10.1080/13698230.2016.1194583.
Gardetti, Miguel A. “Sustainability in the Textile and Fashion Industries: Animal Ethics and Welfare.” Textiles and Clothing Sustainability: Sustainable Fashion and Consumption, edited by Subramanian S. Muthu, Springer, 2016, pp. 47–73.
Huth, Martin. “How to Recognize Animals’ Vulnerability: Questioning the Orthodoxies of Moral Individualism and Relationalism in Animal Ethics.” Animals, vol. 10, no. 2, 2020, 235-249. MDPI, doi:10.3390/ani10020235
Lund, Thomas B., et al. “Animal Ethics Profiling of Vegetarians, Vegans and Meat-Eaters.” Anthrozoös, vol. 29, no. 1, 2016, 89–106. Taylor & Francis Online, doi:10.1080/08927936.2015.1083192.