Why We Need a New Ethic for Animals

in Journal of Applied Animal Ethics Research

Abstract

In Western culture, animal ethics has traditionally emphasized acts of deliberate cruelty and, in the twentieth century, institutionalized harms to animals through activities such as meat production and biomedical research. However, with a large human population and technologies that developed mostly during the last century, a new set of harms—unintended and often acting indirectly—now injure and kill vast numbers of animals. Unintended harms arise from human artifacts such as cars, windows and communication towers. Indirect harms occur from disturbances to the balances and processes of nature, for example through pollution, introduction of alien species and climate change. These harms will undoubtedly increase unless they become a focus of attention and mitigation. A new animal ethic is needed to incorporate these harms into ethical thought. It will need to address such issues as responsibility for unintended versus intended harms, and for collective versus individual actions, and it will greatly narrow the gap between animal ethics and environmental ethics.

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