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I'd like to know whether morally there would be a difference between killing/hunting animals of higher intellect (apart from humans) and animals generally regarded of lower intellect. If there is no difference, why do some people object to killing/hunting animals of higher intellect because they say such animals are smarter? Do animals of higher intellect deserve not to be hunted because of their relatively higher intellect?

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  • Maybe related: Carnism is a belief system that conditions people to eat certain animals. carnism.org/carnism
    – aMike
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 23:40
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    Note that technically, humans are “animals of higher intellect”. Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 16:45
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    I'd just like to point that people keep talking about the ethics of "killing" non-human animals. In my opinion (which is just that, an opinion) killing is not the problem, the real issue is the sadistic absurdity of CAFO (Concentrated animal feeding operation), aka animal farming, which is the norm worldwide. When you consider what people do to animals in CAFO, killing them is a favour (like Silenus's second best thing). Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 4:50
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    I think your question is quite ambiguous: you mean killing just for fun (sadism?), hunting (sadism, sport, food), killing for defense (the animal is attacking us or someone near us), killing because of disgust (usually insects), killing for food (pigs, cows, chicken...), killing because war? Each reason has its own discussion.
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 10:07
  • Oh. My question was about killing for meat for consumption. I apologize if the question was unclear. Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 11:25

6 Answers 6

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Our assessment of the intelligence of animals is not the dominant factor in determining why some animals are more often killed for food than others. Culture, tradition, practicalities and economics appear to be the dominant factors, with consequent variations from society to society. In the UK, for example, it is not usual to eat horses or dogs, but there are many societies that do eat them. In recent decades there has been a growing appreciation of other factors, such as animal intelligence, sustainability, animal welfare, the possibility of extinction and so on.

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  • But assume there were two species with similar factors (sustainable etc), with one being more intelligent and one comparably less, and humans had to choose one species for their meat for consumption, would the animals' intellect play a role in choosing which species is to be hunted for food? Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 15:21
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    @user1039203 But what does "intelligent" mean anyway?
    – Frank
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 16:26
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    Emotional attachment, "cuteness" and one's own involvement in the killing are also significant factors. Eating dogs, for example, would be objectionable to many people because they (or people they're close to) have strong emotional attachments to dogs. Many people may not personally be willing to kill an animal for food (unless necessary), but have no problem eating meat of an animal killed by others.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 12:20
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    "Culture, tradition, practicalities and economics appear to be the dominant factors" ... I think you forgot to mention "deliciousness". Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 16:57
  • Apparently it was pretty common to eat horse in the UK, just not always knowingly; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_horse_meat_scandal
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 19:52
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Humans hunt everything and anything. Some animal species however don't have many individuals left, so we try to protect them. In some countries hunting is used to balance an ecosystem that is not naturally in balance. For example, in Germany, there are next to no larger predators, so humans have to fill the role.

Elephants (about 450.000 elephants)

While some populations of African elephant are secure and expanding, primarily in southern Africa, numbers are continuing to fall in other areas, particularly in central Africa and parts of East Africa. With an estimated 415,000 elephants left on the continent, the species is regarded as vulnerable, although certain populations are being poached towards extinction.

Asian elephant numbers have dropped by at least 50% over the last three generations, and they’re still in decline today. With only 40,000-50,000 left in the wild, the species is classified as endangered.

Dolphins (>8 million across >40 species)

Humans also hunt them, accounting for a significant percentage of yearly deaths.

Most oceanic dolphins are not endangered. However, there are a couple of exceptions. The IUCN lists both the Atlantic humpback dolphin and the Maui dolphin, the smallest dolphin in the world, as endangered.

Human fishing and pollution are the top causes of dolphin depletion. Fishermen often catch dolphins in gillnets while hunting them for their meat or to eliminate them as predators. Sometimes, dolphins are collateral damage as fishermen seek other targets.

Dolphins are valuable members of their ecosystems, and it is vital to preserve them for the health of their environments.

Compare to our livestock:

Cows ~1.5 billion

Chicken ~33 billion

Hunting for food = forget it

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  • But assuming that we killed an animal with a generally lower intellect (a cow?) and an animal with a higher intellect (an elephant maybe) for their meat (all other factors such as numbers or effect on the environment etc aside). Are both killings both immoral? If so, if given the choice between to kill one of those animals (again all other factors aside), would people generally prefer to choose to kill the animal with the lower intellect? Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 14:06
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    @user1039203 Humans kill ALL SORTS of animals. The only reason we domesticate cows for food instead of elephants is that it's easier. Every culture has different opinions on what animal is acceptable to kill. It's easy to not want to kill animals that don't even exist in the country.
    – kutschkem
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 14:47
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    What proportion of dolphins are hunted intentionally though? My guess is that it's a tiny tiny number. Admittedly many are killed as collateral damage while we try to get hold of other fish, but that's not what this answer says.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 28, 2023 at 19:54
  • @Valorum Granted, but it doesn't seem the reason we wouldn't hunt them is their intelligence.
    – kutschkem
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 6:00
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"We" steel live in the morality space based on principle: Man is the measure of all things.

If you say that man have something same intellect stage as other animal, doesn't matter this is elephant, or chimpanzee, or else. If you equal man and an animal - you got only one thing: a monkey will not become a man, but a man will be equal with monkey.

Legal state of an animal = a thing. If you equal a man and an animal you got man state = a thing.

that you ll got is little bit more worse, then emotions from information getting about eating, bitting, killing animals. You ll be eaten, bitten, killen in a legal way.

Ofc some is not good. But if humans will not eat cows = no cows, they not need, they are ballast. Cows, chickens, sheeps got hight population grow only because humans are eating them.

Hunting for fun is immoral.

Hunting as tradition ritual practice - nothing immoral.

Violence an another alive for getting emotions without any mind, it is sadism. Sadism is sociopathic act and it is immoral.

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    You just state "Hunting as tradition ritual practice - nothing immoral." But I believe the question the OP asked extends to hunting as well: Ritually hunting dolphins is not immoral? Ritually hunting orangutans would not be immoral? How about the gedankenexperiment of hunting Australopitheci? Homines Habiles?? Obviously, being a "ritual" is not a shield against immorality, as proven by ritual murder. Not all rituals are good. I suppose we are less inclined to accept harm done that is useless or gratuitous, sure; but why? Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 14:48
  • Also, even if we digress, harm done by a sociopath may be less immoral than amoral (i.e., moral considerations simply do not apply). Sociopaths cannot feel the quality of pain they inflict on others any more than a machine can, so it cannot be used as a criterion to judge them. Not every regrettable incident (e.g., a machine accident) is also immoral. Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 14:52
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica pf. that are you talking about not a morality, it is just your ritual of making you violence and judge to another one legal. Moral is out of legal, it is not ritual. If you haven't enough reasons to judge another you invent pseudo-reality situations like "gedankenexperiment of hunting Australopitheci". but don't call this morality or ethic, it is just a ritual to let you be sociopathic to another group. Ritual hunting can't be sociopathic, it is not one person, and you missed word "tradition", that was a main. ritual out of tradition is a pseudo-one, like yours. Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 15:07
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    "Perhaps people's behavior shows how intelligent they are?" Plenty of very bored (or stressed), yet highly intelligent people people do stupid things because they're bored (or stressed). Thus, the answer to your question is "No."
    – RonJohn
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 15:16
  • @Peter Sociopaths may lack empathy, but that doesn't mean they lack a moral framework or lack the ability to make moral decisions (even if empathy is a big driver of morality). Most of moral discussion serves to move away from purely using emotion to decide what's right and wrong, and shift that to reason to a reasonable degree. Similar to sociopaths, any given person may not feel any emotion with regards to some action, but us labelling it immoral (with justification) should serve to tell them they shouldn't do it.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 1, 2023 at 16:47
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It is worth noting that the intellect may not be the most central criterion by which we decide whether we may harm an animal or person, and in which way, and for which purpose.

The first and clearest criterion is whether an animal can feel pain. It is a central trait of humans that we can put ourselves in other people's, even animals' shoes. Our mirror neurons make us physically uncomfortable when we witness another creature's suffering.

For the longest time, fish were treated cruelly because people thought they cannot feel pain; but recent research seems to suggest that they just cannot communicate their pain very well. Chances are that we conveniently mistook the appearance for the thing.

Another related criterion is certainly complexity. We have fewer qualms killing slugs than mice. This is reflected in e.g. the German animal protection law which provides extended protection for vertebrates.

I suppose that the ability to feel pain and the development of cognitive faculties correlate strongly with complexity, which is probably why there is no clear-cut separation between these interdependent traits.

Perhaps it is instructive to look at artificial intelligence with regard to protection status. We are at the threshold of developing machines with higher cognitive functions than most humans. Already, machines play better chess and Go, translate with few flaws between dozens of languages and even pass some college exams. Fluently speaking dozens of languages, playing excellent chess and Go and being able to reasonably converse about a wide variety of topics, sometimes at expert level, would have been an undisputed sign of extraordinary intelligence until well into the 20th century. We still won't afford these AIs any protection. That we don't do that, on the other hand, does not imply that we can now at will terminate the lawyers, translators, chess professionals and coders who perform worse than the machines. Cognitive abilities are not a good criterion for whom we deem worth protecting.

This gives us a hint which qualities we actually come to realize as characterizing us as human. These may be the same qualities that make us protect animals when we detect them, even to a lesser degree, in them. We may realize that it is not, or not alone, our intellect. It is, rather, our sense of self, our emotions, our friendships, our dreams.

The friendship we see in an animal may be one reason we hesitate to kill dogs and horses, at least in Europe: We tend to form an emotional connection with them which we perceive as mutual. With all due reluctance, because we tend to anthropomorphize, but: Many dogs or horses seem to sense our mood and share our happiness as well as our sadness. Of course people also develop emotional connections to animals like sheep or bunny rabbits which nevertheless are regularly killed for food. But many a child's tears have been shed over the loss of their pet rabbit, and they would have prevented the slaughtering if it had been in their power. I suppose that the adults slaughtering animals shield themselves from too deep an emotional involvement with the animals they raise for consumption. This resembles the professional detachment necessary in other professions, like hospice care: A professional hospice nurse forming deep bonds with their patients and suffering from every death like from the death of a friend could not do that job. The same kind of emotional detachment is necessary for a farmer or butcher. This would explain why other cultures find slaughtering dogs perfectly normal: They have learned to emotionally detach from dogs.

The intellect and budding sense of self may be why we don't kill the great apes; and the recognition of pain may be why we try to be humane when we kill animals for food.

We also honor agency. An almost-automaton like a fly instills less compassion than a pig or bird who make not entirely predictable decisions. That is perhaps one central criterion because killing a creature with the potential to do something unknown cuts off, precludes that future. It will never happen. Perhaps this is why we don't kill fellow humans, even in an infant stage when their cognitive abilities are below those of most animals: We preclude their unknowable future.

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It is sentience, not intelligence, what is usually taken into account for animal ethics:

The most common capacity that has been used to ground animals’ moral status is sentience, roughly defined as the capacity to feel pleasure and pain. Sentience is widely regarded as sufficient for animals to be owed moral consideration, since only sentient animals care about what happens to them. Early animal ethics focused on animals most directly and gravely affected by human practices, namely, the mammals and birds used in food production and biomedical research, and built a case in their defense based on evidence of their sentience. In recent years, evidence of sentience in other taxa is being used to argue that the circle of moral consideration should be widened to include fish (Balcombe 2016; Sneddon 2006), cephalopods (King & Marino 2019; Mather & Anderson 2007), and arthropods (Mikhalevich & Powell 2020). Evidence from comparative psychology that points to some animals being capable of sophisticated forms of agency has also been used in attempts to ground moral status on this capacity (Sebo 2017; Wilcox 2020).

This is a fairly new research area of ethics, as you can see from the dates of the articles cited. The moral treatment they are owed as a consequence of this is currently under discussion:

Moral treatment is usually considered to be a function of the interests that a being has, and these are closely linked to their psychological capacities. Inspired by findings in comparative cognition, scholars have argued that some animals not only have an interest in experiencing pleasure and avoiding pain, but that they can also enjoy other goods, such as freedom (Gruen 2018; Schmidt 2015), friendship (Frööding & Peterson 2011), relationships of care (Monsó, Benz-Schwarzburg, & Bremhorst 2018), and meaning (Purves & Delon 2018). This has potential implications for the moral treatment that animals are owed, because it could mean that animals are not just wronged when they are made to feel pain, but also when they are deprived of opportunities to enjoy these other goods.

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There is no rational answer. There is no defining characteristic which makes it okay to kill (and eat) a pig but not a dog. For our own species you can argue that arbitrary killings would lead to chaos and anarchy.

Rationally we can argue about CO2 emissions, environmental damage, habitat destruction, making species go extinct and so on. These things can be measured and are objectively bad for our own species (especially if they get out of hand).

Being against the killing, exploitation and torture of (some) animals is entirely down to individual conscience.

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