Research Paper: Ethical Treatment of Animals

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Ethical Treatment of Animals

The way we treat animals says a lot about our moral character. The issue of the ethical treatment of animals is an important one and also one that many people are passionate about because it gives a voice to animals who are not capable of speaking for themselves. It is noble and right to be for the ethical treatment of animals. Why is it noble and right? Because, from a purely logical perspective, we are all fellow creatures; we are all lives living on this planet. Most of us would not harm a human on purpose, so we should not think that it is okay to harm an animal. In looking at animals as fellow creatures, we can recognize that it is a common life that we share (Gruen 2011). Though there are many who passionately and emotionally advocate for the ethical treatment of animals, it is not enough to merely be emotional; one must also understand why it is not just an emotional issue but why it is one that needs attention: because it is not ethical to treat animals badly when we consider them as fellow creatures sharing a world with us. Merely questioning the problem and asking one's self why they believe in the ethical treatment of animals makes the issue one that is subject to reasoning as opposed to emotion. In his book Animal Ethics, author Robert Garner (2005) says that, "Animal ethics seeks to examine beliefs that are held about the moral status of non-human animals." Animal ethics can also be defined more generally by acknowledging that animal ethics is about acting for the moral good of animals by understanding animal-human moral issues through knowledge and cognitive reasoning. The issue is one of right conduct and the nature and justification of principles of behavior. This is what virtue ethics is all about. Virtue is a disposition to behave ethically. An understanding of virtue ethics can help one understand how it is to behave ethically and can also help ease the confusion between the idea that to be virtuous is to be an extremist.

What is acting ethically when it comes to animal treatment? Most people would probably say that torturing animals is wrong. To think of a pack of small boys hitting a frog with sticks or plucking feathers from a downed bird would probably spark some kind of anger in us. We would know instantly that this kind of behavior is wrong and that these boys must be stopped and taught that this is wrong. There are also many people who would agree that randomly murdering animals is wrong, yet they will defend hunting and fishing; they will call it sport (Hursthouse 2000). Yet, though sitting in a tree waiting for a deer to come by so they can shoot at it is sport, they may think that taking a machine gun and blasting a pack of deer because they feel like it is wrong. The point is that there are justifications that people give to actions and there are people out there that believe that only some of the treatment of animals is ethically wrong. Does this make the people who hunt less virtuous? What is the distinction then between when it is okay to harm an animal and when it is not?

Virtue ethics makes a distinction between virtues and vice; that is, the qualities that make someone a good person who behaves rightly and the qualities that make someone a bad person who behaves badly. Aristotle is the ancient philosopher believed to be the main theorist behind virtue ethics. He believed that virtue is the middle road between two vices, the middle of two spectrums -- for example, courage is superior to fearlessness or cowardice (Animal ethics 2011). While later ethical theories (mainly ones with God at the forefront) took over the popularity of virtue ethics, virtue ethics theories came back in the 20th century and made it more modern (2008). The modern tradition of virtue ethics says that people should be virtuous in all aspects of their lives and this means that they must be a good person always, which means always considering what is the right thing to do.

Virtue ethics can be thought of as an ethical way of being that requires thought and consideration. Just because virtue ethics tells us that we should consider something (for example, to stop the pack of boys from hurting the frog or the bird), it doesn't always mean that our moral decisions will be easy. Can we still be kind people and eat meat? Can we still be compassionate people and wear leather shoes? Yes, because a virtuous person does things for certain reasons or motives and just because one is virtuous doesn't mean that he or she will become an extremist. One can, for example, eat meat, but she might decide that she will only eat locally raised or cage-free animals. Someone might decide to not wear fur because he or she didn't know where it came from or how the animal was killed. If one is to become extreme -- in any form of their ethics -- then they are acting out of ways they think they should act because of guilt of moral obligations; this is not virtue ethics. Yet, it needs to be recognized that there are many virtuous people out there who enjoy a burger once in a while. These are the same people who devote their Saturdays to volunteering at the dog rescue. Virtue ethics cannot be seen as black and white. One of the main problems with virtue ethics, for many critics of it, is that different people think of different things as virtues and different things as vices. A person may believe that fighting a bull in a ring is not wrong because the bull has just as much of a chance to hurt the matador. In fact, in Spain, there is a lot of respect for the bull. He is seen as a symbol of power and courage. While some people may consider this sport to be symbolic and quite meaningful for the bull and matador, others may think it is cruel. When one contemplates both sides, it isn't too difficult to see both points to each side.

To be a certain kind of person, to be honest, generous, compassionate and sensitive does not just mean that we will act in certain ways, but we will also feel in certain ways (Hursthouse 2000). One isn't just affected by how she or he acts, but how other people act as well. So, using the example above: If I believe that it is wrong to put a bull in a ring and taunt it, then I can't help feeling anger over the whole thing. I choose not to be a matador, but it doesn't mean that I am not going to feel like this sport is unjust. This means that my compassionate side feels for the bull and respects his life as important. Still, the matador would probably say that he respects that bull's life as well -- and maybe even more so.

Virtue ethics holds that one must act how a virtuous person would act and that one "cannot isolate the making of ethical decisions from your personality" (Panaman 2008.) a person who has good character will act accordingly. Good character can be defined (though is not limited to) qualities such as compassion, kindness, respect, toleration, courage, and honesty (2008). When one possesses these types of qualities, one is thus thought to be a virtuous person. More pointedly, a kind person can be relied on to behave in a kind way when a situation requires it. A person who has the virtue of kindness doesn't act kindly out of some non-rational habit such as instinct -- like a lioness defending her cubs (McDowell 1997). Instead, that the situation requires a certain type of behavior is the reason for behaving in a certain way. That being said, it must be something that he is aware of. Therefore, this means that there is a certain amount of logic put into virtue ethics. For me to get angry and emotional at any talk of any sport is me being a lioness defending all the animals of the world; there is not thought put into it and this is not virtue ethics then.

There are some virtue theorists that have argued that hurting animals is wrong, not because it's a violation of the animals rights or because, on balance, such an act creates more suffering than other acts. Instead, in using them in ways that hurt them, we ourselves display moral failings that reflect poorly on us as ethical agents (Gruen 2011). The traits -- traits such as kindness, compassion, sensitivity, etc. -- are what should be shown in our dealings with all creatures -- whether they are human or non-human.

When it comes to the issues of the ethical treatment of animals,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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