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Part I – Humans and Animals: Defining Moral, Ethic, and Humane

Humans are not “equal” to other species of animals, especially not under the law.  

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By Joshua D. Glawson | United States

This will be the first essay in a short series of distinguishing terms, i.e. ‘moral,’ ‘ethic,’ and ‘Justice.’ I shall defend using animals for human consumption, the current popular problems of big game hunting, and a possible solution to the issues giving as close to a win-win as possible throughout this short series. Overall, the running theme will contend that humans are not “equal” to other species of animals, especially not under the law.

When it comes to the topic of animals and animal abuse, people can have extremely polarizing reactions. Commercials with images of abused and emaciated puppies serenaded by Sarah McLachlan bring tears to some people. Campaigns by PETA can lead people to change their diets and normal shopping habits. Vegetarians have become the retro, and now veganism has the “moral” high ground; especially if they also only by GMO-free, certified organic, gluten-free, fair trade, locally grown, fresh, raw, fruits and vegetables. The common theme is that they believe it is ‘immoral’ to use animals as means for food, clothing, materials, oils, etc.

They contend that harming animals, in any way, should be equal under the law to that of hurting fellow human beings. If they are not as extreme as to believe there should be legal limitations of using or abusing animals, they typically feel it is an immoral act to do so. The rarer group consists of those that just choose to be vegetarian or vegan solely for “health purposes.” I shall not pick on those that peacefully choose to have a vegetarian diet or those that peacefully choose a vegan lifestyle. Rather, I am concerned with the growing number of people, e.g. vegans, vegetarians, and animal rights activists, who feel it prudent to coerce others or condemn others based on false premises, and wish to use the coercive power of government to force people into their ideology of equating humans to other animals.

It is imperative to first define morality,’ or what it means to be ‘moral.’ It can be defined as of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior, and it is directly from the Latin word ‘moralis,’ meaning proper behavior of an individual within a society. The Greek ‘ethikos,’ i.e. ‘ethics’ in English, is associated with mores, customs, manners, etc. So, to be ‘moral’ is only between people in their relationships with other people, and ‘ethics’ are the codes of moral conduct held by a society or group.

For example, it is ‘immoral’ to murder a fellow human as it is an infringement on someone else, and this is an ‘ethical’ position held in Christianity since it is the Christian code of moral conduct. As it pertains to morality, most people hold certain morals to be true nearly universally such as people should not murder, rape, steal, etc. under most circumstances. However, there are also some morals that more and more people will not agree are wrong such as lying, gluttony, cheating, lusting, etc. under many circumstances.

Therefore, it is best for this article to not only have defined ‘morality’ and ‘ethics,’ but to stick to the ethical considerations of the legality of using animals for consumption. That will at least make for less debate over ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ ‘morality’ which is a much deeper philosophical topic of discussion. Nevertheless, moral laws do not make moral people, and any laws based on ethical claims can have possible backlash, such as Christian ethics proclaiming homosexuality or premarital sex to be illegal, or anti-marijuana laws because it makes people feel an elevated sense of pleasure. These ethics based laws infringe on the rights of the individual to freely act and exchange with others through voluntary and mutual agreement. To not allow people the freedom to act humanely between one another is, in fact, inhumane.

Many people that love animals will declare certain actions done to animals are “inhumane.” To be ‘inhumane’ means to be without compassion for misery or suffering; however, as the Latin of the word suggests ‘in’ is the ‘opposite of’ being ‘human.’ The word suggests that it is to be savage, cruel, barbarous, etc. As, we, humans have evolved over the past 200,000 years, we have utilized animals for the sake of our survival and benefit.

We have used them for food, clothing, oils, tools, testing for pharmaceutical drugs and learning about ourselves through them, as working animals, and as pets; we have also studied their behaviors and learned from them. According to Aristotle, humans are a ‘rational animal.’ We utilize what is around us to survive, benefit, flourish, and prosper, to a much greater extent than any other animal. So, if a person is using animals for these purposes, and not simply abusing an animal out of anger, they are not acting ‘inhumanely,’ rather they are acting very ‘humanely,’ as they benefit themselves and likely other humans.

Consequentially, humans using animals for the aforementioned purposes, aside from abuse, can also benefit other animals who require meat for sustenance and medicine made from animals. This suggests that if people were not to use some animals for consumption and use, what currently exists would be rather difficult, if not impossible, to sustain. Some of our beloved pets would suffer and die so some vegetarians may be willing to use some animals in order to save more animals and people.

‘Animal abuse’ is a vague and subjective term, usually referring to ‘animal cruelty’ or ‘neglect.’ What is determined to be ‘cruel’ or ‘neglectful’ can vary depending on the laws of that area, but typically it means to not feed, let to wallow in the animal’s waste, not have enough space to move, to beat the animal, to torture, left without proper shelter, etc. According to Seventeenth Century philosopher, Samuel von Pufendorf, animals do not have intrinsic rights, but we should not abuse them out of anger because of what it does to the human, not the animal.

His idea is that by hitting a dog, for example, out of sheer anger makes the person hitting the dog more callous to other people and to themselves. In fact, modern science has suggested that when people habitually act out of anger by harming animals, things, fellow humans, or themselves, they are wiring their brain to continue to do the same. Even more terrifying are the cases where people first began torturing and killing animals for the thrill before moving on to human victims, becoming serial killers, although that is not necessarily true as it is correlation and not causation, and there are also a number of mass murderers who were vegetarian or vegan.

In both of these examples of anger and torture, these actions are not increasing utility, they are instead becoming a hindrance for the person’s growth and reason. Viz., utilizing animals for consumption and mere abuse out of anger are not equal to one another as it pertains to humankind.

The next essay will detail the meaning of ‘Justice,’ and what it is not.


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  1. […] many of the issues previously mentioned, I have specified concerns about ‘Justice’ for animals. This […]

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