The place of morality for non-human animals has been one filled with disagreements on the grounds under which animals are morally considerable and the relevance of this consideration. On the one hand, some philosophers argue that human beings are justified moral consideration when dealing with other humans but this consideration is not required or justified for the non-human animals. On the other hand, other philosophers counter this argument by claiming that although people are different in various ways from each other and other animals, the differences do not provide a rational defense for denying the non-human animals a moral consideration. To recognize a being as deserving moral consideration is to say that this being has a moral claim imposed on those who can accept the claims, and can be wrong in a morally relevant sense. Following this argument, only human beings can make these moral claims because only they can respond to these claims. Humans are considered morally because of the distinctively human capacities we possess, capabilities that only people possess.
Recent studies have however shown that various capacities usually associated with human beings are not uncontroversially unique to humans and have been traced with non-human animals. For instance, developing family ties, expressing emotions, solving problems, using language, or even thinking abstractly. Scholarly and popular works on human behavior have suggested that most of these activities are evident with non-human animals. For instance, less solitary animals such as chimpanzees, baboons, and wolves are known to maintain family ties of extended family units built upon complex individual relationships, for extended periods of time. Meekarts in the Kalahari Desert are known to risk their own safety to stay with a sick or injured member of the family so that he may not die alone. All animals staying in social complex groups must solve their problems that arise in such groups. Primates are known to be good at this, as well as chickens and horses. They do this by being particularly attentive to the emotional states of others around them. When a conspecific is angry, the other animals tend to get out of his way. Animals that develop these long-term bonds are reported to suffer terribly at the death of a partner, with some being reported to die of sorrow. Cases reported are those of monkeys suffering grief at the death of their children, as well as coyotes, elephants, and killer whales. On more development, recent studies in cognitive ethology have shown that some non-human animals apply cognition in their activities. Some have been reported to engage in deceptive and manipulative activities, can construct cognitive maps for navigation, while some can understand symbolic representation and to use language. All these are characteristics thought to be held by human beings only. With these facts, it becomes difficult to dismiss claims of moral consideration on non-human animals.
Another way that some philosophers have tried to discount the moral consideration of non-human animals is by considering the personhood of human beings. The idea of personhood identifies a category of morally considerable beings that is thought to be coextensive with the humanity. Kant, a philosopher, is known for his firm defense of personhood. In his book, Lectures on Anthropology, Kant argues that the fact that the human being can have the representation I raises him infinitely above all the other beings on earth. By this, he is a person, a being different in hierarchy and dignity from things, such as irrational animals, with which one may deal and dispose of at ones discretion. This view still poses a problem when used as a means of judgment. Personhood is not coextensive with human beings when it is thought as a general description of the group to which human beings belong. The biggest problem is that not all humans are persons. For instance, some members of humanity such as infants, children, and people with cognitive disorders, lack the rational, self-reflective abilities linked with personhood. This drawback, commonly known as the problem of marginal cases, poses a significant difficulty for using personhood as a criterion in determining moral considerability.
From the discussion above, a response can be drawn that non-persons, animals included, are morally considerable indirectly. Kant also agrees to this, though he considered animals as things. In his book Lectures on Ethics, he states that we have responsibilities to animals, not toward them, but in regard to them to the extent that our treatment can affect our duties to persons. This includes both animals and the human beings who are not persons. When we act in inhumane ways towards non-persons, whatever their species, we disrespect our humanity. Tom Regan brings in another perspective by arguing out that in determining moral considerations, similarities, rather than the differences between humans and non-humans should be identified. Regan claims that because persons share with certain non-persons the ability to be experiencing subject of a life, and to have an individual wellbeing that matters to them, regardless of other peoples view both deserve moral consideration. He says that the dimensions of our lives, which include pleasure and pain, enjoyment and suffering, satisfaction and frustration, and our continued existence or untimely death, all make a difference in the quality of our life as lived by us as individuals, and this is true of animals. As such, animals too should be viewed as the experiencing subjects of a life, with the inherent value of their own, and therefore morally considerable.
An animals moral claim is equivalent to a moral right. This is to say that any actions that fail to treat the animal as a being with inherent value would be violating that animals right and can be objected morally. According to animal rights, to treat an animal as a means to some end, for example, consuming animal products, conducting experiments on them, or using them for entertainment, is violating that animals rights, and is considered wrong irrespective of human need, context, or culture. Recent times have seen a rise in animal rights activists who are out to defend the treatment of animals. Many people who believe in animal rights have even turned from eating animal products to being pure vegetarians all to protect animals from harm.
In conclusion, the subject of morality and animal rights still experiences disagreements with the activists claiming animals have a moral consideration while other people and philosophers argue otherwise. But like Peter Singer, this essay will take the position that the moral significance of the claims of animals largely depends on what other morally significant claims might be in any given situation. For instance, if killing an animal to be used as food for a hungry family is the only option available, then that action is morally justifiable.
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