Animal Rights Zone

Fighting for animal liberation and an end to speciesism

Animals, Moral Status of

Oscar Horta

Introduction: It is now widely assumed that all and only human beings merit full moral consideration, that human interests count for more than similar interests of other creatures. Thus, if a human being feels exactly the same pain as a nonhuman animal, then barring some other morally relevant consideration, ending the human’s pain is morally more important. However, even many who claim that human interests take moral priority think that (at least some) nonhuman animals have some interests that we should consider morally, even if they also think these interests are relatively minor.

Given the widespread acceptance of this view, it is not surprising that we routinely use nonhuman animals in multiple ways. We use them for fur, leather, and other clothing materials. We use them to entertain us: we watch them fight, race, and perform at circuses, we keep them in zoos, and we employ them as objects of sport in some forms of hunting and fishing. We train them to assist disabled humans. We use them to educate our children in school experiments. We test drugs and other consumer products on them; we use them as experimental research subjects (see animal experimentation). Although these uses consume millions of animals worldwide each year, by far our most substantial use of animals is for food, whether in commercial fishing, farming (see vegetarianism and veganism), or in some private hunting and fishing.

Critics claim that these uses of nonhuman animals reflect an unjustified bias in favor of our own species, what has been called “speciesism.” This gives us a way to frame the central issues of this essay. Is the claim that human interests morally count for more than similar nonhuman animal interests justified? Even if human interests do morally count for more, should we nonetheless morally consider nonhuman animals’ interests? If we should consider their interests, even a bit, how does that alter how we should treat them? Finally, there are two subsidiary moral issues: are we justified in favoring some nonhuman animals over others, and how do we resolve conflicts between the interests of nonhuman animals and the environment?

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