Ethical Treatment of Animals
SOC 120 Introduction to Ethics & Social Responsibility
January 10, 2011
The Ethical Treatment of Animals Page 1
The ethical treatment of animals has not always been so controversial. In the
beginning, God created animals to serve man, and to be helpful to man. They have worth
and purpose and have become vital to mans existence in work, food, clothing and
companionship. They are of great benefit to humans. It is argued that human use of
animals has no ethical issues at all and that experimentation on them does not require
human benefit. The utilitarian theory allows us to examine ethical choices and in contrast, relativism allows us to determine our course of action with ethical values. Moral equal theories extend equal consideration and moral status to animals. (Ethics & Social Responsibility-1.7) Denying moral status to animals may require not harming animals because by doing so can cause harm to a human being’s morality. The ethical treatment of animals should always be humane and morally right. Animals have the ability to feel pleasure, pain and suffering.
Daily, we are subjected to decisions of right and wrong, or a situation that forces
us to respond in a good or bad way, acting morally of immorally. The utilitarianism
theory suggests that there is an obvious solution that is fair, and it may be one that
appeals to common sense, also, when faced with a set of choices, the chosen act should
have the best results for the greatest number affected by that choice. (Ethics & Social
Responsibility-1.7) We must choose the act that minimizes pain and suffering and that
will do the least harm.
Seeing an animal being treated cruelly or tortured immediately sparks your
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intuition that this treatment is wrong and immoral. Using intuition, you would not
consider evidence or argument, you simply react. This intuition is most often correct but
can be considered wrong by others. Not only should we disapprove, but we should be able to explain why we disapprove, and why such intuitions may be wrong and lead to other immoral acts or results. For example, here is a description of a scene filmed by video in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant where a cat is being prepared as a meal for customers: (Regan, 2004:1) As the cat claws and screeches, the cook hit it several times with an iron bar, clawing and screeching even more now, it is abruptly submerged in a tub of scalding water for about ten seconds. Once removed, and still alive, the cook skins it, from head to tail, in one swift pull. He then throws the traumatized cat into a large stove vat where we watch it gulp slowly, its eyes glazed until it drowns. The whole episode takes several minutes. (Robert Garner 2005) Is the fact that it was a cat instead of a lobster or rat problematic, assuming one finds it to be, or is it the fact that the cat was not killed in a more humane way? Intuition tells us the treatment of the cat was unethical and unnecessarily cruel even though it was to be used as food as the end result, it could have and should have been done in a more humane way with less suffering and pain to the animal.
The most profitable way to determine the morale status of animals or how we
ought to treat them gives us the responsibility to identify the morally relevant differences.
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A failure to do this could result in a valid claim for moral equality. We would not then be
morally entitled to treat animals any differently from humans....