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I've heard lots of people say that animals just shouldn't be considered ethically, and so actions against them that they would consider morally wrong to do to humans don't matter. This doesn't make sense to me. No creature gives birth to a new species, so isn't the limit entirely arbitrary? Can someone please steelman the case that animals shouldn't be morally considered, preferably without reference to some unique human spirit or something else esoteric?

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  • I would be deeply disturbed if I heard someone seriously arguing against the ethical treatment of animals….
    – David H
    Dec 23, 2023 at 12:01

2 Answers 2

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OK, trying to steel man. I do not agree with the below.

Argument 1: We do not know if animals are conscious at all. IF we allow moral consideration to be based on consciousness, then two of our emergent consciousness theories — this of Higher Order Thought and of Rationality — would predict that animals are not conscious. And therefore should not be given moral consideration.

Argument 2: Humans are a Eusocial community, in Darwinian conflict with all other species for scarce resources. Morality is the normative rules set needed to make our partial eusociality work. We use moral norms as our psychological impetus to sacrifice and share for the community’s benefit. In this context we can of course choose to extend consideration to particular animals — allowing them into our pack/community to share resources and consideration with. But we cannot let ALL of them in, or our community would fail over too many non-contributing members.

Argument 3: Fusion vectoring off the top two. Animals may be conscious and suffer, but humans are so much MORE capable of reasoning that we are dramatically more valuable. And due to the intrinsic scarcity of our universe, and the viscous competition between creatures for those scarce resources, billions of animals will die or be killed every day. We can’t stop this devastation, and due to our superiority, should not be troubled by it.

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Animals are already considered. Firstly, let's explain what is ethics.

Morals is the informal set of rules that govern human interaction. Informal means essentially orally transmitted, like the grandmother who teaches her grandson "be polite". Ethics are the formal expression of morals, like when such rules are written in a book: "politeness cause interactions to be fruitful for both partners", etc.

Among other elements, in final terms, morals govern our survival: not killing is a common moral rule because killing reduces the human group survival probabilities.

Killing animals, in some cases, could be good for human survival, like when we kill cows to get meat. In other cases, it could be bad, like when we kill elephants, and risk unbalancing the ecosystem (which risks our own survival). So, we know rules like "don't kill elephants". Such is, clearly, a moral and ethical rule.

In any case, yes, animals ARE considered in morals and ethics, even if both are not precisely about them, but about us humans. Morals/ethics are rules intended for humans to survive WITH animals, not for animals to survive INDEPENDENTLY of humans.

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  • Whether they are or not currently is irrelevant to my question. Please read my post more carefully
    – edelex
    Dec 23, 2023 at 9:10

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