Animal Rights Encyclopedia entries
  1. Absolutism
  2. Altruism
  3. Animal Ethics
  4. Animal Rights - see 'Rights'
  5. Animal Rights History
  6. Animal Rights Motto
  7. Animal Rights vs Animal Ethics
  8. Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare
  9. Animal Rights vs Conservation
  10. Anthropocentrism
  11. Anthropocentrism, Enlightened
  12. Anthropomorphism
  13. Aquinas, Thomas
  14. Aristotle

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  1. Bearskin Hats
  2. Beef Cattle Statistics
  3. Bestiality - see 'Zoophilia'
  4. Behaviourism
  5. Bentham, Jeremy
  6. Brain, Milestones of Understanding
  7. Bushmeat

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  1. Cat Traffic Training
  2. Chickens - Broiler Hens
  3. Chickens - Egg-laying Hens
  4. Chickens Statistics
  5. Clever Hans the Counting Horse
  6. Consciousness
  7. Consequence Ethics (Consequentialism)
  8. Consideration, Equal
  9. Contractarianism
  10. Copernicus, Nicolaus
  11. Creature Harmony
  12. Cruelty

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  1. Darwin, Charles
  2. Deep Ecology
  3. Descartes
  4. Dogs - Communication & Control
  5. Duty Ethics (Deontology)

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  1. Emotivism
  2. Environmental Ethics / Environmentalism
  3. Ethical Egoism
  4. Ethical Theories & Animal Rights
  5. Euphemisms
  6. Expanding the Circle
  7. Experimental Animals - see 'Laboratory-Experimental Animals'

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  1. Factory Farming
  2. Fish Statistics
  3. Five Freedoms
  4. Foxhunting with Hounds
  5. Fur Animal Statistics
  6. Fur Brushes & Bows
  7. Fur Farming
  8. Fur Marketing
  9. Fur Morality
  10. Fur Species
  11. Fur Trapping

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  1. Golden Rule
  2. Goldfish Bowls
  3. Great Apes

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  1. Han means He or She
  2. Human Overpopulation
  3. Human Superiority

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  1. Interests
  2. Interests - see Consideration, Equal
  3. Intrinsic Value
  4. Is Ought Fallacy
  5. It - Stop Calling Animals It

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  1. Laboratory-Experimental Animals
  2. Legalism

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  1. Meat Statistics
  2. Mirror Test of Animal Consciousness
  3. Moral Agents & Patients
  4. Moral Autonomy
  5. Moral Status or Standing
  6. Moral Theory Choice
  7. Moral Values & Judgements
  8. Mutilation of Farm Animals

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  1. Naturalistic Fallacy
  2. Natural Selection
  3. New Welfarism - see 'Welfarism, New'
  4. Number Fallacy

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  1. Painism
  2. Passenger Pigeon
  3. Pigs / Hogs Statistics
  4. Predation

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  1. Reciprocal Morality
  2. Religious Tradition
  3. Rights

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  1. Sheep & Goats Statistics
  2. Soul
  3. Subjectivism
  4. Subject of a Life

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  1. Terrorism
  2. Therianthropy

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  1. Universal Declaration on Animals
  2. Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare
  3. Utilitarianism

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  1. Vegetarianism
  2. Vermin
  3. Virtue Ethics

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  1. Welfarism, New
  2. Wolf Ethics

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  1. Zoophilia
  2. Zoos


Interests - reason for morally considering animals

Moral wealth  On what should we base our consideration of the moral status of other beings? Regarding humans, some people claim that all humans are equal and that we should base our moral consideration on a principle of equality. However, they choose to ignore that in significant ways we are all disproportionate or unequal, made different by circumstance (like inherited wealth and education), mentality (like sense of moral responsibility, balance of rationality and verbal ability) and physical aspect (like sex and race). But there is one way in which we are all equal. No matter what our situation, brain wiring or physicality, we all have basic interests. It is on interests, some philosophers claim, that we should base our consideration of the moral status of others.

Two basic interests that everyone shares are an interest in staying alive and an interest in staying healthy. Other interests are to live in freedom, make our own decisions, enjoy relationships with our fellows, live in peace and security, eat healthily, and so on.

Acorns have interests.

People of different race or intelligence are all equal by virtue of sharing the same basic interests. But a corollary of claiming moral status for humans on grounds of interests is that animals will also deserve moral status, because they, too, share our basic interests. Animals, like humans, have interests such as staying alive, staying healthy, living free to make their own decisions, and interacting with their kin and fellows.

An advantage of focusing on interests is that you can refute species membership - that humans deserve greater moral status simply because they belong to the human species - so often used to exclude animals from moral consideration (see Speciesism). Emphasising interests, you can claim that humans, chimpanzees, dogs, sparrows and mice all share the same basic interests so deserve equal moral consideration of their interests. We are, of course, only considering interests that are comparable. We are not comparing such interests as accumulating wealth, or gaining free access to museums or libraries, because these are interests that animals do not share with us.

Alternative Views

Instead of resting moral status on interests, some people might rest them on God. "God made us in His image", not in the image of chimpanzees or mice, so animals do not go to heaven and therefore being lesser creatures we can ignore them. On the other hand, some people are abandoning this traditional religious view. They are reinterpreting our relationship with animals in a new religious way (see Religious Tradition). However, this argument lacks force for people who are not theistically inclined.

Instead of resting moral status on interests you might say they could depend on genetic relationships. We all tend to treat preferentially our close genetic kin, like parents, offspring and siblings. We treat people more distantly related to us less preferentially and strangers least of all. We are more likely to give a loan or a kidney to a member of our own family than to a stranger. Extending this argument, we are more likely to help members of our own species than animal species. This is an argument based on Altruism, embedded in our biological nature. However, although it may be true that we tend to help kin more than strangers, we can nevertheless rise above our biology. We also have the capacity to steal and murder yet do not have to behave this way just because the potential is built into us.

How do we know beyond a reasonable doubt that animals have interests? Stick a pin in an animal and he will act as though he is trying to save himself - as though his interest is staying alive. But, as critics might say, is what we see only an act? Was nothing going on inside his head? You could program a robot to react the same way. However, you do not have to be conscious of having interests. You do not have to think about them. For example, a fundamental interest is to reproduce. But until recently humans did it without knowing why. We now know from science that by reproducing we replicate our genes and pass them on to our offspring. Genes have been replicating themselves for hundreds of millions of years, before the genes even invented bodies (animals and plants) to live in and protect them.

Even if an animal you stab with a pin runs away without conscious thought of what he is doing, we should still take his interests into account by giving him the benefit of the doubt that he really does have interests. We should give the benefit of the doubt because if we do not then we risk making a horrifying moral blunder. Another reason for taking an animal's interests into account is that if we profess to be morally superior to animals (as many people claim they are) then we should exercise that superiority by looking after animals, not by neglecting or abusing them. There is yet another reason for morally considering animals. All vertebrates share much the same biology (nervous system, physiology, evolution, etc); therefore we are also likely to share, at least to some degree, the same kind of physical feelings, such as pain perception and the desire to survive; therefore we all have interests. (See Evolutionary Continuity.)



Page revised Nov 2010.
Web site established Nov 2009.