Brute Ethics





Animal Ethics Encyclopedia

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Marginal Cases

Marginal Cases Marginal cases are people who are not fully morally autonomous, that is they do not know moral right from wrong and therefore are unable to act morally. Some humans who are not morally autonomous are babies, mentally retarded people, the insane, sufferers of senile dementia and comatose patients. They are marginal cases because, morally speaking, they are on the fringes of moral society. Some philosophers employ the idea of marginal cases as an argument for defending animal rights.

Philosophers who take the view that animals do not have rights claim that only morally autonomous creatures have moral status and deserve moral consideration. Animals, they assert, are not morally autonomous, so have no moral status, therefore deserve no rights. These same people argue, however, that human marginal cases nevertheless do have rights, because they are human. As a counter, supporters of animal rights assert that if human morally marginal cases have rights then logically animals must have rights too. Indeed, they point out that some animals, for instance normal adult chimpanzees, are more morally autonomous than human marginal cases.

Defenders of rights only for humans reply that human babies will grow up to be morally autonomous, mentally defective people can sire normal babies and comatose patients might recover. But animal rights supporters argue that if you give rights to human marginal cases and not to animals then you are guilty of speciesism, prejudice against others simply because they are not part of your own species. Moreover, they claim that animals are sentient, they have feelings and can suffer, no matter whether they are autonomous or not, and this in itself entitles animals to rights.

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Martin, Richard (1754 - 1834)

 Irish politician and animal and human rights activist. He is especially remembered for pioneering legislation through the United Kingdom parliament to outlaw cruelty to animals and for being a leading founder of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA).

At age 22 Martin became a member of the Irish Parliament for two decades. But when the Act of Union dissolved the Irish Parliament around 1800 he took a seat as a member in the United Kingdom parliament in London, representing County Galway, where he was born.

Martin had a reputation for being extraordinarily kind hearted to people and animals, earning the nickname Humanity Dick. He was a keen duellist, considered one of the best in Ireland, and when an unbalanced bully, George Robert FitzGerald (later hanged by the law), killed a dog, Martin challenged him to a shoot-out - they wounded each other. It is said that when Martin was asked why he defended animals so utterly he replied, encapsulating his passion both for duelling and his concern for animal welfare, Sir, an ox cannot hold a pistol!

Martin fought for social reform on many fronts, including emancipation for Catholics, abolition of the death penalty for convicted forgers and freedom for slaves. But he is remembered in particular for the legislation, popularly called Martin's Act, or the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act, that, with the help of others, he drove through Parliament. Martin's Act banned the ill treatment of equines, cattle and sheep. Martin's Act was the first law passed by any country to proscribe cruelty to animals.

Extract from the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act 1822, also known as Martin's Act:
"...if any person or persons shall wantonly and cruelly beat, abuse, or ill-treat any Horse, Mare, Gelding, Mule, Ass, Ox, Cow, Heifer, Steer, Sheep, or other Cattle...and if the party or parties accused shall be convicted of any such Offence...he, she, or they so convicted shall forfeit and pay any Sum not exceeding Five Pounds, not less than Ten Shillings, to His Majesty...and if the person or persons so convicted shall refuse or not be able forthwith to pay the Sum forfeited, every such Offender committed to the House of Correction or some other Prison...for any Time not exceeding Three Months."
None of Martin's further attempts to introduce laws to protect animals, including a ban on dog-fighting, cock-fighting and bull-baiting, succeeded and he was mocked for his energetic prosecution of anyone ill-treating animals.

In 1824 Martin led the founding (with others including William Wilberforce and Arthur Broome) of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The RSPCA was the world's first animal welfare organisation campaigning on animal issues. It inspired people in other countries to establish similar societies, such as the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, founded in 1839, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, founded in 1866.

Martin was a sport hunter, however, hunting his 9,000 ha (22,000 acres) estate, a third of County Galway, that he inherited from his father. Many influential people who supported the RSPCA were also sport hunters, which is why, after a good start, the organisation foundered by excluding wild animals from its remit and did not start to become a more effective humane society until over a 170 years later in the 1990's.

When Martin was 72 he fled Britain to Boulogne, then still a busy French port and popular resort for British expatriates, because of political intrigue and inheritance debts on his estate and died there a few years later. However, a year after his death, Martin’s Act was enlarged to ban the baiting and the fighting of animals like dog-fighting. His grave in Boulogne was bombed during the Second World War but later his bones were reinsured in the cemetery's ossuary and a marble plaque erected there from RSPCA funds. The plaque, in English and French, reads in part: "...he piloted...the first act to protect animals."

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Mass Extinction

See here for Mass Extinction.

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McLibel Two

 The name McLibel epitomises the six year libel trial fought by two ordinary Londoners, Helen Steel (1965 - ) and Dave Morris (1954 - ), and the multi-billion dollar fast food international giant, McDonald's. The legal conflict exposed dubious practices of unrestrained big business and demonstrated the interconnectedness of animals, green issues and social justice.

London Greenpeace was a small group in 1980's London, Britain, campaigning for social justice (and no relation to Greenpeace). Macdonald's epitomised for them much of what they were fighting to change and in 1986 they produced a leaflet accusing the McDonald's, symbol of globalisation and the American lifestyle, of corrupt practices, including cruelty to animals, destruction of rainforests, exploitations of their staff and selling unhealthy food. London Greenpeace chose McDonald's because of their high image profile attained by spending millions of advertising dollars convincing people to eat their junk food. Many groups worldwide were demonstrating against McDonald's but London Greenpeace brought all the issues together in the one leaflet: What's Wrong With McDonald's and distributed copies outside McDonald’s restaurants in London.

McDonald's threatened or sued everyone who criticised it, no matter who they were, whether national corporations, like BBC, the press or individuals, and almost everyone backed down from this billion dollar giant. McDonald's could not sue London Greenpeace, it was only an association of individuals, so they pick five activists and told them to apologise or be sued in court.

Three activists recanted but Helen Steel, sometime gardener and night-club bar worker and Dave Morris, sometime London postman, stood firm. Consequently in 1990 McDonald's served libel writs on them - even though both denied distributing the offending leaflet. Steel and Morris were unwaged at the time of the trial and could not afford a lawyer. But, despite being naive of libel law and court procedures, they decided to fight the case themselves. Their moral claim was to defend the right to criticise and scrutinise multi-national companies. McDonald's hired the best professional team of lawyers costing millions of dollars. Fortunately, pre-trial hearings gave Steel and Morris valuable experience with court procedures and they had free but sporadic advice from sympathetic lawyers.

The trial proper began in 1994 at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. A witty reporter called the case the McLibel Trial, a nickname that stuck, and Steel and Morris became the McLibel Two.

Keeping everything going was an ordeal for Steel and Morris. A typical day started at seven or earlier in the morning to get ready for the day's proceedings, such as preparing questions to put to witnesses. Once home from court, preparations continued up to midnight for the following day. All this was on top of looking after their mundane domestic affairs, which the McDonald's team of lawyers had partners and staff to do for them. In on of the several legal machinations, McDonald's council succeeded in discharging the jury, which could prove hostile to McDonald's, on grounds that its members were ordinary people who would not understand the scientific evidence. But Steel and Morris petitioned the House of Lords, the highest court in Britain, and the jury was reinstated. After all, Steel and Morris were ordinary people and if they could understand the evidence then a jury should be able to as well.

What gave the McLibel Two the strength to keep going was the thought that the case was not a personal struggle between them and McDonald's, but a campaign for justice against a multinational company trampling over people, animals and nature. Encouraging letters from a well-wishing public and £40,000 ($80,000) in donations and other support lifted their spirits. The McLibel Support Campaign held a march for free speech and questions were asked in Parliament opposing the use of libel writs by big companies to silence critics.

The McLibel Two thought the trial would take only a few months but it ran for six years turning it into the longest trail in British legal history (and subsequent legal battles continued for several more years until 2005). Finally, the judge reached a verdict. Steel and Morris were guilty of libelling McDonald's and had to pay them £60,000 ($120,000) in damages (later cut by a third). Damages were relatively light because the judge upheld some of the allegations against McDonald's, such as causing animal suffering, exploiting children through advertising and misleading the public about their food's goodness. Steel and Morris swore never to pay McDonald's, who chose not to force them to pay, no doubt with public relations in mind.

The McLibel Trial was a moral victory for Steel and Morris, the McLibel Two, and the biggest public relations blunder in the history of business for McDonald's. McDonald's became a symbol of corporate badness using animals, nature and people merely as means to make a profit. The McLibel Trial received worldwide coverage in the new media for the right of ordinary people to freedom of speech against powerful multi-nationals. As Dave Morris said:
The reality is that McDonald's itself is a completely nondescript, money-making organisation, full of hot air - without advertising it would be nothing. (Dave Morris Interview, One-Off Productions, 1996)

Sources include interviews Dave Morris, One-Off Productions. 1996; Helen Steel. One-Off Productions. 1997. Accessed online February 2007.

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Meat is a dead animal or parts of one. But when it comes to diet, meat has a more specific meaning. If you eat meat you are eating an animal's muscles. Take a look at a joint on a dinner table. It is a leg muscle wrapped in skin with part of the leg bone through the centre. Or examine chops; they are backbones surrounded by muscle.

However, according to food manufacturers and food shops, when it comes to processed food, meat is not just muscle. Meat to them is any internal organ or soft part of an animal, including viscera, lungs, brain and whatever offal they decide to toss into their product. You can find this kind of 'meat' in pies, canned food and other commercial 'meat' products. The less muscle and more offal, the cheaper the product.

How cheap is your meat? Are you eating muscle or offal? Do you know what you are eating? Is it right that you are passed off bits of animal (brains, lungs...) you might otherwise never consider eating?

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Meat Consumption Worldwide

meat eating Animals and meat in this entry mean livestock and poultry and exclude sea food. The information is based on statistics gathered by FAO, the Farming and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (see Source, at foot of entry).


  • Humans are eating more animals than ever.

  • Humans eat an annual average of 40 kilograms of meat each and in the top ten meat-eating countries eat three times this amount.

  • Worldwide consumption of meat was 247 million tonnes in 2002.

  • The total consumption of meat increased three and a half-fold in the last 40 years.

  • Some developing countries have increased their meat consumption dramatically. China, for example, eats over 20 times its 1961 tonnage.

  • Countries producing the most livestock are not necessarily the biggest meat eaters.

  • Humans are eating increasingly more animals. Since FAO records began in 1961, world meat consumption has grown every year from 71 million tonnes to 247 million tonnes in 2002 - a three and a half-fold increase in 40 years.

    The increase in meat consumption in some countries is striking. The Chinese increased their meat consumption from three million tonnes in 1961 to 68 million tonnes in 2002. In comparison, the United States doubled its meat consumption from 17 million tonnes to 36 million tonnes and Britain stayed at the same level, consuming around 4 million tonnes of meat a year.

    Some countries consume more animals than other countries partly because they have bigger human populations. China is the biggest meat consuming country (Table 1) but average consumption per Chinese, although above the world average of 52 kg, is way below Americans at 125 kg of meat per human (Table 2) and Britains at 80 kg per human and all other western European countries.

Table 1: Meat consumption per country.
Top ten countries & worldwide 1998 - 2002.

Millions of metric tonnes.
  1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
China 59 60 64 65 68
United States 33 35 35 35 36
Brazil 12 13 14 14 15
Germany 7 7 7 7 7
Russian Federation 7 6 6 7 7
France 6 6 6 6 6
Japan 5 6 6 6 6
Mexico 5 5 6 6 6
India 5 5 5 5 6
Italy 5 5 5 5 5
World 224 228 234 238 247

See foot of entry for sources and notes.

On average worldwide, each human eats 40 kilograms of meat annually and people in the top ten meat-eating countries eat three times this amount (123 kilograms), as you can see from Table 2 below.

FAO statistics show that the average amount of meat consumed per person has doubled over the last 40 years. The average consumption per human increased steadily from 21 kilograms per person in 1961 to 40 kilograms per person in 2002. In fact, people are consuming more meat, eggs and milk and most of this growth is in the developing countries as their populations and incomes increase. This has been called the 'Livestock Revolution'.

Compare Table 2 with the top livestock producing countries (see Livestock Numbers Worldwide). You can see that the biggest meat-eaters are not the biggest livestock producers, with the exception of the United States.

Table 2: Average annual meat consumption per human. Top ten countries & Worldwide 1998 - 2002.
Kilograms of meat per human.
  1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
Luxembourg NA NA 147 134 142
New Zealand 140 138 122 147 142
Bahamas 123 141 152 135 124
Denmark 126 130 130 139 146
Cyprus 126 132 134 132 131
United States 120 124 122 120 125
Spain 115 114 112 115 119
French Polynesia 105 103 107 109 112
Canada 103 107 107 108 108
France 102 100 100 103 101
World 38 38 39 39 40

See foot of entry for sources and notes.

Sea & Jungle Food

FAO excludes fish. If you want to include fish in total meat consumption you might add about an extra third to the total of livestock and poultry food. For example, take the year 2001. Add the 130 million tonnes of seafood (92 million tonnes sea fish and 38 million tonnes farmed fish, see the tables in Fishing - Deep Sea and Fishing - Farming) to the 238 tonnes of livestock and poultry, and the total animal food consumed is 368 million tonnes.

And do not forget bushmeat; wildlife is a significant part of the menu.


Clearly, human demand for meat is one of the biggest destroyers of animal life. Although vegetarianism is an important personal commitment it makes little impression on the scale of meat eating. Taking up vegetarianism (making synthetic meat will not suffice) and engaging in birth control are the two ways of reducing the slaughter. But most of the world's multitude would not think of eating less meat, yet alone of giving it up, and the human population is growing fast. Therefore, for the foreseeable future and perhaps for as long as humanity persists, animals will continue their cataclysmic fall down the abyssal human throat. Meat consumption statistics underline what can be seen all around, that for most people animal ethics is scarcely a priority in their daily lives.

Sources & Notes

Tables 1 & 2 are based on statistics gathered by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), FAOSTAT on-line statistical service (FAO: Rome, 2005). Earth Trends, World Resources Institute displays FAO statistics online, in this case Agriculture and Food Searchable Database, Table 1 from Meat Consumption: Total and Table 2 from Meat Consumption per Capita.

FAO defines meat consumption as "...the total meat retained for use in country for each country per year. Total meat includes meat from animals slaughtered in countries, irrespective of their origin, and comprises horsemeat, poultry, and meat from all other domestic or wild animals such as camels, rabbits, reindeer, and game animals."

It is not possible to collect totally accurate statistics about millions of animals from all over the world. As FAO admits, "Data is reported by individual countries, which may have varying capacities for data collection." Therefore the statistics in this entry are only a rough guide of how much animal tonnage is available for humans to consume.

Also see:

Livestock Numbers Worldwide

Livestock & Poultry Slaughter Numbers


Hens & Eggs

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Mirror Test

The mirror test is a measure of whether animals are self-aware, that is conscious. The test is based on whether animals can recognize their reflection in a mirror as an image of themselves.

The mirror test was developed in the late 1960's by Gordon G Gallup, professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany. He marked the foreheads of sleeping adult chimpanzees when they were sleeping and observed what they did with they woke. The only way the chimpanzees could see the mark on their forehead was by looking in a large mirror nearby. How would they react?

Gallup discovered that on looking into the mirror the chimpanzees touched the mark on their forehead. They touched their forehead significantly more frequently than a comparable group of chimpanzees treated exactly the same way but without leaving a visible mark.

The classical explanation, by Gallup and co-workers, for the chimpanzees' behaviour is that inspecting the mark means they can recognise their own reflection, and this is evidence that the chimpanzees are self-aware. Moreover, Gallup proposed that 'passing the mirror test' indicates a chimpanzee is self-aware to the extent that he can inspect what is going on in his own mind and, furthermore, is therefore able to understand the mental state of others.

A number of other species have undergone adaptations of the mirror test, but only chimpanzees, orang-utans and bottlenose dolphins consistently react to themselves. Gorillas have flunked the test so far. Humans pass it but only when they are over three to four years of age.

You might applaud the mirror test as evidence that at least a few animals are conscious. But some scientists are sceptical, claiming that the test is intriguing evidence but far from definitive and might even demonstrate nothing at all about consciousness. Some say that reacting positively in the mirror test may only be a first step toward a conscious being. At best, they say, passing the test is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for self-awareness and that the test may be more related to intelligent thinking about a reflection than to actual consciousness. The debate about what the Mirror Test demonstrates is unresolved.

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Dislike, hatred or contempt for animals. From the Greek misos for hatred, and ther for beast. You may show misothery directly as animal abuse or by some other exploitation of animals and indirectly in some form of wilful environmental destruction.

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Moral Agent

Someone who can recognise moral right from moral wrong and tries to behave morally right is a moral agent. See Moral Autonomy. Contrast with Moral Patient.

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Moral Autonomy

Moral Autonomy You are morally autonomous if you can reflect on the reasons for your actions, decide on whether your actions are good or bad, and alter your behaviour if necessary so that you act for the moral good. You are acting morally autonomously if you were to treat someone violently but after consideration decide it is better to discuss how you can overcome your differences. Someone who is morally autonomous is called a moral agent. Moral autonomy is a pillar of ethics because morality is not possible if nobody can regulate their behaviour, if no one is a moral agent.

As a morally autonomous person, as a moral agent, society will punish you for serious transgressions, harming or murdering someone, because it holds that you morally and legally responsible for your actions. Society does not hold you responsible if you cannot understand your position. Infants, mentally impaired people and the insane are not prosecuted if they do wrong but are given help and care. Human infants and animals are commonly assumed not to be morally autonomous but that children grow up to be moral agents and animals do not. Animals are said not to be morally autonomous because they cannot contemplate what they do or why they do it.

Animal moral agents were in danger in Europe between the twelfth and eighteenth centuries. The law accused a number of animals - dogs, pigs, horses - of crimes, holding them answerable because it recognised them as morally autonomous. The animals were put on trial just like humans, often in ecclesiastic courts. Animals found guilty were punished with the same penalties applied to human law-breakers of the period: they were hung, burnt or buried alive. Fortunately for animals the notion that they are morally autonomous beings who can suffer the full force of the law eventually died out.

People generally hold the view today that you cannot be morally autonomous if you cannot comprehend the idea of moral rights. Some people take this further by saying that as animals cannot comprehend moral rights they therefore should have no rights. One reason why sentiency is important in animal ethics is because it side-steps that opinion. Sentiency means that animals have mental states and feelings and are able to suffer, and therefore should have rights.

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Moral Community

A moral community is a population whose members share a common interest of holding each other morally responsible for treating each other well. Members of a human moral community live according to the ethics of their community, whether secular or religious, for instance the moral community of your gang, corporation, monastery, society or country, according to their criminal, professional, humanist, Buddhist or Christian ethics.

See Expanding the Circle and Moral Autonomy.

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Moral Duty

Moral duty is our obligation to treat something morally. You do moral duty to beings that have moral status and thus deserve moral support. The deliberation in animal ethics is just how far animals merit human moral duty.

Moral duty is direct when your moral act benefits the recipients you intend to benefit. Moral duty is indirect when your act has a secondary effect benefiting others. When humans conserve a forest for posterity - a direct moral duty to their descendants - the animals in the forest also gain by not being swept away by loggers and bulldozers - an indirect moral duty to animals.

Moral duty is not the same as Duty Ethics. Duty Ethics is a theory about what shape your moral duty should take.

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Moral Patient

Moral patient  Someone we do not expect to be morally responsible for their actions is a moral patient. Human infants and mentally impaired people are moral patients. We can respect their rights but we do not expect them to live up to moral responsibilities like moral agents. Arguing for animal rights you might hold that animals are moral patients.

Also see Moral Autonomy.

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Moral Status

Sticks and stones have no moral status because they cannot be harmed. Smashing a stone or breaking a dead stick is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong. But living beings may have moral status because they may be helped or harmed. If animals have moral status they are said to be 'morally considerable', that is we can think about treating them morally. Some philosophers say that if animals have moral status then logically they deserve moral rights.

Based on the degree of similarity you think animals have with humanity, you could claim they have no moral status, some moral status or the same moral status as humans. Accepting that animals have some moral status may cause you problems, for how could you justify exploiting them like eating them, wearing them, experimenting on them, or using them for entertainment? If you exploit animals and acknowledge their moral considerablity you would have to change your relationship and dealings with them.

You could justify moral status for animals by claiming that they, like humans, possess such features as interests - such as staying alive and healthy; intrinsic value - value in themselves and not for the use we can make of them; sentiency - that they can feel pleasure, pain and suffer; that animals possess cognitive abilities similar to humans - such as rationality and intelligence; or you could emphasise animals in relation to God - that God made us all his creatures.

On the other hand, some people argue that only humans and not animals have moral status. You could deny animals moral status by appealing to their apparent lack of cognitive abilities (lack of reasoning, intelligence, consciousness, language) and lack of their moral sense. You could point out their inability to enter into moral contracts. You could allude to their not living in moral communities. Or you could say that God gave man transcendence over animals (see Religious Tradition). If all else fails you might, as some people do, proudly claim to be speciesist, prejudiced in favour of your own species, and that animals are nice but below us.

What ever you do, you should strive to identify morally relevant difference (philosophers have challenged all the features above for their meaningfulness). Also be aware that moral status is sometimes called moral standing, and depending on the way these terms are used they can mean the same as moral rights. Some people distinguish between moral standing and moral status. Moral standing has moral worth, as opposed to having no moral worth, and moral status is the degree of moral worth, for instance animals have moral status equal to or less than human moral status. However, some people do not distinguish moral standing from moral status, using them interchangeably, as a continuum from no moral worth to full moral worth.

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Moral Ubiquity

Earwig  Morality is about how we should live and act toward others. It is about doing what we consider is right and good to others. You might believe that morality applies only to humanity, that only people can act morally and then only to other people. But morality is ubiquitous; the humble earwig, an insect, tells us so.

Earwigs number about a thousand species. (That is a great variety when you consider that mammals total only four thousand species.) They are about 2 cm (0.75 ins) long, live in a wide range of habitats on every continent except Antarctica and typically feed on dead and decaying vegetation. Take for example the Common European earwig (Forficula auricularia). This earwig is widespread in Europe, was introduced to America, and you may see some in your garden.

The main claim to fame of the European earwig is that they are dedicated parents, or at least mothers are. Whereas insects commonly abandon their eggs after laying them, the striking thing about an earwig mother is that she looks after her young. She lays a dozen or so eggs, keeps them free of fungi and parasites by licking them, defends them against predators, and should they get scattered she gathers them back to the nest. When the eggs hatch, the young look much like adults. She brings food back to the nest, partly digests it and spits it out for them. If the young of another earwig mother wander into her nest she adopts them and treats them as her own. She looks after them all until they can fend for themselves.

How are earwigs connected with morality? Earwigs care for their offspring and can care for the offspring of other earwigs. When humans look after their children and the children of other people, we call this acting morally. Earwigs are acting no less morally. Of course we can think and rationalise about our moral behaviour whereas earwigs cannot. But caring behaviour is caring behaviour whether in earwig or human.

When the members of a species support others of their own kind, they are acting morally. The moral code of each species is not identical but accords to the particular way their society is organised. For example, part of the moral code of hive-living bees is to sacrifice themselves to defend their queen and nest against enemies. This is not part of the moral code of humans or earwigs because our societies are not organised around hive queens. Our social organisations are different and therefore our moralities are not the same.

Earwigs demonstrate that morality is not unique to humanity. Animals of every species which do good to their own kind have their own moral code. Morality can crop up wherever there is animal life anywhere in the universe. Morality is ubiquitous, literally universal.

Of course, no one is totally morally good all the time, and young earwigs had better look out, for if they do not leave their nest before they mature into adults, their mother may eat them.

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The partial skinning alive of lambs, particularly in Australia. See under Wool

© 2004 Roger Panaman All rights reserved