Ethical Consideration of Animals
‘The moral status of animals is, that they are just products…they are separated of moral society’ (Cavalieri 2002: 56).
This quote is a fitting abstract of what was the common sense in regard to the rights of animals for a long time and it is still visible to this day. So, it says in the first paragraph of the German animal protection law: ‘Nobody is allowed to hurt, bring pain or suffer to an animal, without a reasonable cause’ (Tierschutzgesetz § 1). Even if this sentence indicates, that animals are fellow creatures, whose lives and welfare have to be protected, it builds up a hierarchy, which puts humans above non-human animals. Humans have the right to hurt or bring suffer to an animal, if they are able to provide a reasonable cause. This it is left up to humans, to decide, when it is acceptable to let a non-human animal suffer. It seems to be pretty complicated to define, whether there is a reasonable cause or not. The fact that humans have this right in modern society, and where this right comes from, would be considered as the base for movements like the animal right movement.
The analysis of the human- non-human animal relationship and the question, if animals have rights, goes back to antiquity. The answer to this question involves a few factors, while the main factor is and was, the position humans have in comparison to non-human animals. In history, most of the time, humans were put highly above non-human animals. This was mainly because of two reasons, which have been very constant for centuries. First, the God-likeness of humans and their ability to be reasonable.
This essay will take a closer look at the development of these concepts and argue if non-human animals should be ethically considered.
The idea of humans as the only beings with sense is still part of modern thought. This thesis was first mentioned by Alkmaion in the antiquity (Flury 1999) and was taken even further through the tenet of transmigration from Orphics and Pythagoras. of the basis of their thinking was that there is a dualism between body and soul (Breßler 1997). Humans are in contrast to non-human animals mainly through soul.
The idea of this dualism got very popular through Platon, who adapted this thesis. Platon also separated soul into three parts. The brave one, the appetitive one and the reasonable one. For Platon, humans were mainly the reasonable part of the soul and were able to dominate the other parts and their bodies. If a person is able to do so, this human being becomes god-like. If not, the human becomes a non-human animal (Flury 1999). For Platon, humans and nature are quite distanced. Humans should dominate nature. The non-human animal misses the reasonable part of the soul and is therefore not included into this ethical consideration. Humans are allowed to dominate them and treat them; however, they please.
Aristoteles had a quite different position as for him, humans were embedded in nature and the differences between humans and non-human animals were mostly gradual (Flury 1999). But, Aristoteles describes nature as a hierarchy, where the creatures with less sagacity exist to be used by the ones with more sagacity (Singer 1988).
In difference to Platon, Aristoteles gives non-human animals desires like food, reproduction and the ability to feel and to have imaginations. But he also only gives humans the ability to have reason and therefor have a mind. Similar to Platon, Aristoteles thinks of the human soul as immortal (Flury 1999).
Aristoteles describes nature as a harsh place where the strongest has the right to use this natural harshness against other beings (Teutsch 1991). In Aristoteles’ case, not only non-human animals are meant by this, he also means ‘barbarian tribes’ (Singer 1988).
The idea that non-human animals have no reason was very unquestioned for a long time, mainly in connection with the concepts that they don’t have language and consciousness, which are often seen as necessary to be able to have reason.
Two popular representatives of this opinion were Descartes and Kant, who brought this idea into modern moral philosophy.
The […] doctrine of the creation and the God-likeness, which is only awarded to humans, in connection with the (over-) valuation of language and reason […]’ (Wolf 2005: 22) props the assumption of the ostensible superiority of human beings. This thesis is the basis for the idea that only humans deserve ethical treatment.
Sine Darwin’s theory of evolution is biologically proven, then the difference between humans and non-human animals is not categorial (Cavalieri 2002).
The Darwinism had only a small influence on the development of ethics. Darwin considered that humans do not have to be interpreted different than (other) animals (Flury 1999).
Darwin explains the reason as a natural rather than a supernatural characteristic, which developed in the history of human evolution. It is not the foundation of human beings and it is not an ability which only human beings possess. Darwin states that the reason and mental abilities are strongest in human beings, but non-human animals are capable of feeling pain, fear, boredom and therefor have consciousness and reason. Human beings are only a provisional stage in a process of development, not a God-like end result (Flury 1999).