Extended Examples: Nonhuman Animals



The environmental ethics is an attempt to provide rational and morally well supported answers to issues related to the moral status of non-human beings (i.e., non-human animals and nature or objects in nature). Here are some examples of questions pursued in the domain of environmental ethics: 

  • Why should we care about the planet and the non human residents of our planet?

  • Do we have any obligations to future generations?

  • Can we use animals and nature in any way that suits us?

  • Do they have moral rights?

  • On what foundations should we rest our concern for rain‑forest, marine ecology, or natural landscapes?



Morally‑Indirect Environmental Strategies (or "the indirect duty" view) (part of homo-centrism, e.g., Aquinas, Kant)):

We ought to protect the natural environment because, in the long run, it is good for humans.


  • Ex1: It is wrong to destroy rain forest because deforestation negatively affects current and future humans

  • Ex2: It is wrong to use up non-renewable resources because, in a long run, it is bad for humans. In particular, future generations of humans will be negatively effected by our actions.

  • Ex3: It is wrong to be cruel to animals, because it may lead to cruelty to humans.

  • Ex4: It is wrong to be cruel to my dogs because they are my property and I do ot want my property to be used in certain ways.


Morally‑Direct Environmental Strategies ("the direct duty" view; e.g., Singer, Regan, Sencerz):

We ought to protect the natural environment because it is good for natural environment. That is, something in the natural environment has intrinsic (or inherent) value that (morally) has to be taken into consideration.

  • Ex1: It is wrong to be cruel to animals because it causes them pain. (Singer, Sencerz, utilitarians)

  • Ex2: It's wrong to harm animals because they are subjects of a life and thus, they have special dignity inherent value and moral rights. (Regan)

  • Ex2: It is wrong to destroy rain forrest because it is beautiful and beauty has intrinsic vale.




A) Only humans (both current and future) have moral standing (morally matter).

B) The natural environment must be protected only in so far as it is good for humans.

C) Animals are excluded from the sphere of morality; we only have indirect duties to them. (That is, all limitations about what we can do to or with animals and nature are explained by the means of indirect environmental strategies.)

Some examples

* Aquinas (and the traditional Natural Law Theory, see quotations in Rachels)

* Kant (and his interpretation of categorical Imperatives)

* Rational egoists and egoistically inclined contractarians such as Thomas Hobbes. 

Hobbes maintained that morality is a result of agreement between rational et egoistical beings who make a contract to adopt and follow certain rules (irrational and non-rational being cannot enter into any such contract). Notice, contractarians immediately run into a problem of explaining why we have duties to future generations, children, and other beings who cannot enter into a contract with us. 



The same basic ethical principles govern our attitude to both humans and animals. That is, we have direct obligations to both humans and animals.

Ex 1: Classical and Contemporary Utilitarians (the following passage comes from Peter Singer's book "Animal Liberation"; see  also his "All animals Are Equal"): 

Jeremy Bentham incorporated the essential basis of moral equality into his utilitarian system of ethics in the formula: “Each to count for one and none for more than one.” In other words, the interests of every being affected by an action are to be taken into account and given the same weight as the like interests of any other being. A later utilitarian, Henry Sidgwick, put the point in this way: "The good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the point of view (if I may say so) of the Universe, than the good of any other.'' [The Methods of Ethics  (7th Ed.), p. 382.] More recently, the leading figures in contemporary moral philosophy have shown a great deal of agreement in specifying as a fundamental presupposition of their moral theories some similar requirement which operates so as to give everyone's interests equal consideration — although they cannot agree on how this requirement is best formulated.

If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. No matter what the nature of the being, the principle of equality requires that its suffering be counted equally with the like suffering—in so far as rough comparisons can be made—of any other being. If a being is not capable of suffering, or of experiencing enjoyment or happiness, there is nothing to be taken into account. This is why the limit of sentience (using the term as a convenient, if not strictly accurate, shorthand for the capacity to suffer or experience enjoyment or happiness) is the only defensible boundary of concern for the interests of others. To mark this boundary by some characteristic like intelligence or rationality would be to mark it in an arbitrary way. Why not choose some other characteristic, like skin color?

The full quote from Bentham is in Rachels (7th ed., p. 106)


Ex 2: Contemporary Kantians (e.g., Tom Regan)

Regan utilizes Kant's like insights, specifically the idea that some beings must never be used merely as a means; he extends this ideas to include animals.

Regan's first point is factual. Namely, he claims that all beings with a mental development of about 1 year old mammal are "subjects of a life."  Such being have a subjective point of view and likings and preferences. Consequently, their lives may be better or worse for them from their subjective point of view. (By contrast, cars can run better or worse but they do not care about it because they have no subjective point of view.)

Regan's second point is normative; namely he claims that "all subjects of a life have an inherent value".

Notice, Regans' concept of inherent value is an analog of what Immanuel Kant called the special worth and special dignity. (Read again Rachels, chapters 1, 9-10 and this set of notes about deontology, Kant, and the Ethics of respect for persons.) There are are, of course, some differences between Kant and Regan. Kant links the concept of the "special worth" and "special dignity" to rationality and autonomy. Regan links it to having a subjective point of view and being "the subject of a life". 

Finally, Regan argues that all beings who have inherent value must not be used merely as means to promote utility. Such beings have moral rights. In particular, they have a right not to be harmed. 



Some non‑sentient beings and systems have moral standing. They may include individual plants, species, ecosystems, even the nature as a whole.

Ex 1: Aldo Leopold: 

"All ethics... rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts... The land ethics simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land" (Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (New York: Ballantine, 1966), p. 239).

Ex 2: Baird Callicott: 

"[land ethics] is in sharp contrast to traditional Western humanism... [it] provides moral standing for both environmental individuals and for the environment as a whole". Leopold: "a land ethics changes the role of Homo Sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for fellow members and also respect for the community as such" (J. Baird Callicott, "The Search for an Environmental Ethics" in William Shaw, Social and Professional Ethics, 2nd ed., p. 199).



There is a consensus that, if an action or practice negatively affects humans (current and future), we have a reason not to do it. The question is, is this all there is about animal ethics? That is, do these indirect arguments go far enough? Are they sufficient to deal with all forms of animal and environmental abuse?  Are there some other good and more direct arguments that support changing our attitudes to animals?

A) An intuitive approach.

In general, suffering is treated as intrinsically bad, period. So, animal suffering is also bad.  Therefore, animal suffering always matters from a moral point of view?

B) The last man on a desert island argument(s).

Suppose that some action causes excruciating suffering to an animal yet has no adverse bad results for humans. For example, someone tortures animals on a desert island and then dies. It seems obvious such an action is morally wrong. But the indirect approach cannot explain why. So it has to be rejected.

C) Arguments from marginal cases

Suppose we deal with a child who will never develop into a rational being. Intuitively, we ought not cause such a child unnecessary suffering. So, morality does not seem to depend on someones's being rational but rather on someone's being sentient (i.e., having an ability to suffer and feel pleasure). But animals have this ability. So, they are in the sphere of moral concern. 

D) Other Possible Natural Objects That May Have Intrinsic Value

It is harder to argue that we have to extend the sphere of moral concern to non-sentient beings and/or systems. Some philosophers argue that, e.g., the ground for this step may be provided by the fact that these objects are beautiful and beauty has intrinsic value.



Some general points

An Argument from Marginal Cases (again): Both Singer and Regan notice that it would be morally wrong to use severely handicapped humans (e.g., severely enfeebled children) in ways we currently use animals. The consistency requires to treat similar cases similarly. Thus, they argue, most experiments on animals are morally wrong and we ought to abandon industrial methods of producing meat, dairy, and eggs (so called, the factory farms). 

Some differences in their approaches: Singer would allow for using an animal when it maximizes utility. Regan's approach is deontologist (neo-Kantian); he argues that what we do to animals involves treating them merely as a means, violates their moral rights, and thus is wrong. We should stop doing it even if it maximizes utility. 



Harms to animals

(from Sencerz, "Toward a Plausible Hierarchical View About Animals", in progress)

A great majority of animals raised for food in the industrial world are raised on factory farms under conditions causing them excruciating suffering, typically throughout their lives. Hens and chickens almost always live in hangars full of methane destroying their eyes; these conditions are repeated for about 99% of all farm animals in the United States. For the sake of space and energy efficiency, 99.9% of chickens raised for meat and 98.2% of hens raised for eggs are forced into stacks of layered “battery” cages where they live on wiry floors that break and damage their legs. To force quicker growth and to save on food, they share a small cage with three to eight other birds; the space allocated to each is so small that they cannot stretch out their wings or turn around. Their normal instinctual behavior is to peck at each other until one of them moves away. But this cannot happen in a small cage. Thus, if this instinctual behavior were not gotten under control, they would peck at each other until one of them drops dead, causing a loss to a producer. To prevent this behavior, they are debeaked with a hot blade cutting off the tips of their beaks through a thick layer of highly sensitive tissue. The process causes lasting pain and impairs their abilities to eat and drink. This happens several times during their lives. This horror is the fate of about 3 billion hens and chicken per year in the United States alone. Another billion or so are killed immediately when they are hatched, usually by suffocation or by being grinded alive simply because they are male and so they cannot produce eggs. Consequently, raising them is less profitable than raising female birds. In the United States, there are no legal constraints upon raising birds. Farmers can do to them literally whatever they want.

Calves are separated from their mothers shortly after birth so more milk can reach the market. Naturally, it causes stress and suffering to all of them. Cows are forced to have new offspring year after year, and they are slaughtered as soon as they cannot continue doing it. These are not just examples of excesses. Rather, they illustrate what is a standard for the food industry. Veal calves are kept in small stalls, 22” by 54”, and are chained by their necks so they cannot move or turn around. Again, it saves on food and generates faster growth. They are raised on a liquid iron-deficient diet causing anemia so the veal looks better and fetches a better price. Beef cattle are kept on hard surfaces in feedlots frequently housing up to 100,000 animals. Since they cannot move around, they must stand in their own waste. These conditions cause chronic feet and leg injuries. Pigs are confined in iron crates providing about 6 square feet of space that are situated on concrete floors with no bedding of any kind. They are forced to breed over and over again.

Animals raised in these circumstances cannot fulfill their most basic instinctual needs such as nursing, stretching, moving around, rooting, grooming, establishing their social order, selecting mates, procreating, or rearing their offspring. This leads to an extreme boredom and depression, which induces stress and the suppression of their immune systems. To prevent the large-scale losses caused by disease, animals are routinely fed antibiotics and growth hormones. In turn, they are transported frequently for hundreds of miles in confinement in extreme heat or cold before they are slaughtered.

To put some numbers on it (and not counting horses, goats, rabbits, and fish), almost 10 billion animals are slaughtered annually in the United States alone. For example, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, 9.4 billion birds, 33 million cattle, .6 million calves, 124.4 million hogs, and 2.26 million sheep and lamb were killed in 2018. In addition, about 1 billion animals suffer and die from diseases, malnutrition, injury, or suffocation. This means that about 30 million animals are killed every day and about 20,000 during time it takes someone to read a page. As Mylan Engel summed up in this point, “no other human activity results in more pain, suffering, frustration, and death than factory farming and animal agribusiness” (Engel (2000, pp. 866-867)).


Fragments from "The Eartlings" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8B547L5VkQ

Food (Birds) (10 minutes)

Food (Cows, Pigs) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQ4xlwEuHRI (5 minutes)

See also Part V: Science (10 minutes)


"Meet Your Meat" (11 minutes, a documentary produced by PETA)


Environmental factors and inefficiency (same source, I rely on Engel (2000, pp. 870-872)).

The meat industry is also an inefficient and environmentally damaging way of producing food.[1] First, it is about 10-11 times less energy efficient when compared to producing plants. On average, it takes 28 kilocalories of fossil fuel to produce 1 kcal of animal protein, compared to 3.3 kcal of fossil energy to produce 1 kcal of grain protein (Pimentel (1997, pp. 16, 20)). Fish production is almost as inefficient (Pimentel and Pimentel (1996, p. 93)). Second, animal production is extremely inefficient in its water usage. Producing 1 pound of animal protein requires about 100 times more water than producing 1 pound of plant protein. Agriculture currently accounts for 87% of the world’s fresh water use. This could be radically reduced by shifting to an entirely plant-based agriculture (Pimentel, Houser, at all (1997, p. 100)). Third, animal agriculture is also extremely nutrient inefficient. As John Robbins observed:

By cycling our grain through livestock, we not only waste 90 percent of its protein; in addition, we sadly waste 96 percent of its calories, 100 percent of its fiber, and 100 percent of its carbohydrates.

Meanwhile, malnutrition is the principal cause of infant and child mortality in developing nations. In many of them, over 25 percent of the population die before reaching the age of four. In Guatemala, 75 percent of the children under five years of age are undernourished. Yet every year Guatemala exports 40 million pounds of meat to the United States. It borders on the criminal! (Robbins (2012, p. 325))

Fourth, the meat industry causes an enormous amount of soil erosion. As Pimentel, Harvey et al (1995) summed up in this point: “During the last 40 years, nearly one-third of the world’s arable land has been lost by erosion and continues to be lost at a rate of more than 10 million hectares per year” (Pimentel, Harvey et al (p. 1117). Fifth, animal agriculture creates enormous amounts of hazardous waste in the form of excrement. Sixth, livestock farming contributes 18% of greenhouse gas emissions (Matthews, 2006), which is more than the total emission from ships, planes, trucks, cars and all other transport put together (Froggatt, Wellesley, Baile, 2014).


Public Health

Pollutants released by factory farms are serious risks for people living around them; they show higher numbers of the incidents of pneumonia, respiratory diseases, and cancer (See, for example, Horrigan, Lawrence, and Walker (2002, p. 445). Next, the livestock industry relies heavily on antibiotics used to control infections. In the United States, about 80% of all antibiotics are consumed by farm animals (“Summary Report,” Food and Drug Administration, 2014). This use of antibiotics contributes to the public health problem of antibiotic resistance. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control:

The damaging effects of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) are already manifesting themselves across the world. Antimicrobial-resistant infections currently claim at least 50,000 lives each year across Europe and the US alone, with many hundreds of thousands more dying in other areas of the world.

As this figure continues to rise, it may cause an enormous health and economic crisis. Next, there are a number of deadly zoonotic diseases that remain harmless when carried by animals but become deadly after jumping to humans. There are many examples of disease that was spread most likely through the consumption of infected meat. H1N1 influenza, known as the so-called “Spanish Flu,” killed about 50 million people beginning in 1918. HIV/AIDS has been traced to chimpanzees living in Central Africa. In 2018, 770,00 people died from causes related to HIV. The Ebola virus has spread to humans from infected bats or infected non-human primates. The H1N1 influenza, again, this time known as the “Swine Flu,” killed about a quarter million people in 2009-2010. And the novel virus, COVID-19, has already killed more than 1.2 million people globally. In addition, the industry has a devastating impact on workers who make the production of meat possible. As one of the slaughterhouse workers noticed:

Every sticker [slaughterhouse killer] I know carries a gun, and every one of them would shoot you. Most stickers I know have been arrested for assault. A lot of them have problems with alcohol. They have to drink, they have no other way of dealing with killing life, killing animals all day long. If you stop to think about it, you’re killing several thousand beings a day. (Eisnitz (1997, p. 87))

It would seem possible to eliminate almost all of these problems if we were to adopt a vegan lifestyle. In fact, most of these problems would be eliminated if we allowed ourselves some limited access to animal products, i.e., milk and eggs, on the assumption that we can develop completely symbiotic relations with animals.

Personal health

There are literally hundreds of scientific studies, published in top scientific journals, demonstrating that vegan and/or low-fat vegetarian diets leads to lower rates of coronary heart diseases, significantly lower rates of heart attacks, cancers, diabetes, hypertension, strokes and other degenerative diseases (typically between 10-20% of rates for meat eaters), and generally live longer lives. In addition, there are numerous examples of world class athletes who are vegan and vegetarians. A partial list includes Dave Scott (six-time winner of Hawaii’s Ironman Triathlon), Sixto Linares (world record holder for the 24-hour triathlon), Edwin Moses (400 meters hurdler undefeated in international competition for eight straight years), Paavo Nurmi (held twenty world records and nine Olympic medals), Andreas Cahling (1980 “Mr. International” title in body building), and Scott Jurek (arguably, the greatest ultramarathon runner of all time).

More here: “100 Scientific Reasons to NOT Eat Meat” is a sample of one hundred of such studies providing a link to, and a brief summary, of each: https://honeyforsweetnes.wordpress.com/2015/10/06/100-scientific-reasons-to-not-eat-meat/ .




Movies and video-clips: 

  • "Food, Inc" -- A documentary making a case against "factory farms" and in support of local self-sustainable farms and also organic food. The movie argues that going away from factory farms would be best for the planet, economy, and human health. It would also greatly reduce (if not totally elliminate) animal suffering. Comes with the book. (PBS trailer, 24 minutes long;  or google you tube)

  • "Forks Over Knives" (available on Netflix or google you-tube). A powerful documentary about the benefits, both individual and societal, of going vegan. It covers the same material as the book, China Study (by Campbell and co), mentionned above and below. (After watching this movie, my friend, a Ph.D. in philosophy and a meat eater observed what follows: "I'm not ready to fully go down that path, but I find the arguments compelling and the issues important.")

  • A CNN video of workers abusing cows; it raises serious food safety issues. Very graphic and not for faint-hearted.

  • Supermarket Secrets - Dispatches part 1 and Part 2 A journalist Jane Moore investigates how supermarkets have affected the food on our plates and reveals the tell-tale signs that the food we buy may not have been grown in the way we think.

  • "The Earthlings" (a complete movie); another link to "The Earthlings". (EARTHLINGS is a feature length documentary about humanity’s absolute dependence on animals (for pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and scientific research) but also illustrates our complete disrespect for these so-called “non-human providers.” The film is narrated by Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix (GLADIATOR) and features music by the critically acclaimed platinum artist Moby. With an in-depth study into pet stores, puppy mills and animals shelters, as well as factory farms, the leather and fur trades, sports and entertainment industries, and finally the medical and scientific profession, EARTHLINGS uses hidden cameras and never before seen footage to chronicle the day-to-day practices of some of the largest industries in the world, all of which rely entirely on animals for profit.)

  • Fragments from "The Eartlings" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8B547L5VkQ

  • "Meet Your Meat" (11 minutes, a documentary produced by PETA)

  • "Meet Your Meat" (11 minutes long documentary produced by PETA)

  • Animals Should Be Off the Menu (10 minutes): Philip Wollen addresses the St James Ethics and the Wheeler Centre debate making a case that animals ought to be off the menu because it is good for them, for us, and for our planet. One of the most powerful speeches on this topic I have ever seen.

  • Animals Should Be Off the Menu: The full debate (113 minutes): A very good debate on both sides. The topic is, strictly speaking, "Should Animals Be Off the Menu". Singer and Wollen gave extremely powerful arguments against factory farms. The other side argues, mostly, for self-sustainable farms (which has nothibg to do with the abomination of the factory farms). 

Other (mostly on line) resources




1) Both Peter Singer and Tom Regan argue that

A) in general, it is morally permissible to experiment on animals and to raise them for food, we just have to do it humanely;

B) in general, it is wrong to experiment on animals and to raise them for food (and if we do it, it would be an exception to a rule);

C) it is never permissible to experiment on an animal.

D) none of the above

2) According to Singer, the most fundamental principle of equality can be stated as follows:

A) only factually identical beings ought to be treated equally;

B) Only beings with comparable mental abilities ought to be treated equally;

C) The interests of every being that has interests are to be taken into account and treated equally with the interests of any other being;

D) All of us have certain basic equal rights, e.g., the right to life; E) All of the above.

3) According to Tom Regan, the most fundamental moral principle can be stated as follows:

A) Only factually identical beings ought to be treated equally;

B) The interests of every being that has interests are to be taken into account and treated equally with the interests of any other being;

C) No being who is a subject of a life and thus has inherent value (and thus moral right) can be treated with disregard for this being’s rights (especially the right not to be harmed), and this includes animals.

D) All of the above;  

E) None of the above

4) According to protracted humanism (homocentrism) the natural environment and animals ought to protected and respected because

A) such protection is good for current and future humans;

B) such protection is good for animals;

C) humanistic attitudes include natural landscapes;

D) all of the above; E) none of the above.

5) The following philosophers would accept the main tenets of protracted humanism (homocentrism)

A) St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas

B) Kant and Hobbes;               C) Singer and Regan

D) A) and B);                           E) all of the above

6)  According to Individualistic Extensionism the following beings have moral standing (are directly protected by the rules of morality):

A) only current and future humans;

B) both humans and other sentient beings (animals);

C) humans, animals, natural landscapes and other non-sentient parts of environment;

D) none of the above.

7) The following philosophers would accept the main tenets of individualistic extensionism

A) St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas

B) Kant and Hobbes C) Singer and Regan

D) A) and B);

E) all of the above

8)  According to eco-centrism (global extensionism) the following beings have moral standing (are directly protected by the rules of morality):

A) only current and future humans;

B) both humans and sentient animals;

C) humans, andimals, natural landscapes and other non-sentient parts of environment;  D) none of the above.

9) Peter Singer position is

A) a version of consequentialism based on the view that the satisfaction of interests is good while frustration of interests is bad (pleasure is good and pain is bad);

B) a version of deontology based on the idea of respect for rights;

C) both A) and B);

D) none of the above

10) Tom Regan position is

A) a version of consequentialism

B) a version of deontology based on the idea of respect for

11) Augustine, Aquinas and Kant argue that

A) we do not have any direct obligations to animals or nature and we can do with them whatever we feel like doing, no limitations

B) we do not have any direct obligations to animals or nature but we must not be cruel to animals for if we are cruel to animals we may become cruel to humans

C) both a) and b);

D) none of the above

12) Imagine that the last person on a desert Island decides to take care of her pet because she thinks it is her obligation to this animal. This example seems to show that 

A)  indirect environmental strategies are morally correct (that is we do not have any direct duties to animals or nature);

B) indirect environmental strategies are morally incorrect (that is, we may have some direct obligations to animals)

C) living on a desert island is not that bad if one has enough water and food;

D) none of the above

14) According to the argument from the “marginal cases” we ought to take care of seriously mentally handicapped people when they suffer. This argument attempts to show that

A) animals are not at all like humans; thus, we do not have any duties to them (they do not have a moral standing);

B) humans who are only marginally like us have a moral standing (we have some obligations to them); thus, similarly, animals may have a moral standing (moral constraints are not directly linked with someone’s intelligence);

C) neither A) nor B)

D) all of the above

15) If we have obligations to Neanderthal men, future humans who may have different genetic material, and even Extra Terrestrial beings, then

A) moral standing does not depend on someone’s being a human being, a member of our species (Homo Sapiens);

B) moral standing depends on someone’s being a human being, a member of our species;

C) neither A) nor B.

16)  Stef argued in class that one reason to care about natural environment is that some natural objects are beautiful, and beauty has intrinsic value, and we have a reason to protect something which has an intrinsic value.

A) true B) false.