Ethical issues

Topic Selected: Animal Rights

General Article icon Type: General Article

The question of defining the moral status of humans and animals often arises in the debate on research involving animals. Are humans morally more important than all animals? Is there a sliding scale with humans at the top and the simplest animals at the bottom? Or are humans and animals morally equal?
We suggest that the proper moral treatment of a being depends on the characteristics it possesses, rather than simply on the species to which it belongs. We identify five morally relevant features:

  • Sentience (the capacity to feel pleasure and pain)
  • Higher cognitive capacities (for example, the ability to use language and learn complicated tasks, such as making and using tools)
  • The capacity to flourish (the ability to satisfy species-specific needs)
  • Sociability (being a member of a community)
  • Possession of a life (attributing value to life itself).

Ethical decision making

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