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Posted by on Oct 13, 2012 in Animals, Philosophy | 17 comments

We Are Animals

Lately, I’ve seen a spate of books and blog posts on our moral obligations to animals. Some of these have been written in the context of disproving a loving God. Others are attempts to establish how we should behave in respect to animals, unrelated to religious doctrine. In any case, I’m glad to see these books and concerns out there, because I love animals, and presently share my home with five of them. But…

October Kitty

We are animals, and we owe no greater obligation to animals than they (we) owe to each other, which is arguably no obligation at all. In the real world, animals treat each other cruelly, with no consideration for the pain of the weak, for other packs and tribes, or for their prey. They do what they need to survive, and so do we. For some of us, that means eating animals, and for all of us (even vegans), that means using either products tested on animals or products that include animal-based ingredients, at least  to some degree.

If by virtue of having more highly-developed thinking capacity we are able to empathize better than other animals, then our first goal should be to extend that empathy to fellow humans. Note, I’m not arguing that humans are more important or valuable than other species; according to many philosophies, they aren’t. I’m merely saying that a species that can’t extend empathy to other members of the same species is unlikely to successfully extend its empathy beyond it. In an ideal world, of course, we would do both, but we are so far from that ideal as to make these questions purely academic. Nor do I foresee a world where we sacrifice the lives of fellow humans for the sake of saving the lives of animals that exist below us in the food chain. That strikes me as unnatural and unrealistic. It also goes against the fairly well-established principle that humans are most likely to extend empathy to those closest and most similar to themselves.


On the other hand, human beings have been the most destructive and abusive species to other humans, to the environment, and to other animals. This is, in my mind, unacceptable. At the very least, we should strive to make the world better for all. An attempt to do so does not require examining the difference between a dog and a spider and attempting to assign relative values to the lives of each; but it does require treating all living things with a modicum of respect. It involves not killing except out of necessity or defense, and employing the most quick and humane methods possible when killing is, indeed, required. Further, it involves limiting animal testing to that which is necessary to save and/or extend the lives of humans and other animals, but not to enhance our “beauty.” When getting to know other humans via the internet, it quickly becomes apparent that real beauty is on the inside, anyway (she says as she heads out to get her nails done &  her hair colored  — with color not tested on animals, of course).