Nonhuman animals have rights

Do animals have rights? An ethical examination of the moral status of animals on the basis of Schopenhauer's ethic of compassion



1 animal ethics
1.1 A historical overview
1.2 The moral status of animals

2 Arthur Schopenhauer
2.1 (Compassionate) ethics
2.2 Animals in Schopenhauer's Ethics

4. Conclusion



Ethics - an area of ​​philosophy in which animals, if at all, only have a secondary place. Although some early philosophers, such as the vegetarian of ancient Greece Pythagoras, mentioned the topic of animals primarily in the current philosophical discussion. Arthur Schopenhauer, as one of the first philosophers to include animals in his moral philosophy, granting them “radical” rights, equates them with human beings in his ethics. A fundamental aspect that today is inconsistent with the social position and treatment of animals. So is this thesis on equal treatment outdated or is human selfishness just stronger than reason and compassion? Are our actions immoral or, in view of the differences between animals and humans, ethically appropriate and are we authorized to exploit our superiority? In this work, I will ask myself these questions, as well as those about egoism and its overcoming, with a view to Arthur Schopenhauer's ethic of compassion. For me, the decisive point with Schopenhauer is that he allows all living beings to participate in his ethics, which in the next step gives everyone the right to rights. Some voices of modern philosophy, but also e.g. Immanuel Kant, whose work Schopenhauer values ​​and criticizes, expropriate animals from him. Reasons for an ethic that only applies to humans are often the differences between this and other inhabitants of the earth. The question already asked by Kant “What is man?”, Which basically already includes the question of the difference between man and animals, I will hardly be able to answer in this work, but it remains with regard to the demarcation of man from Animal and the resulting consequences for both extremely relevant. So it should be considered part of a basis of the topic to be discussed. To what extent these delimitations could be chosen arbitrarily and which similarities and differences could influence the law and treatment of conspecifics as well as all inhabitants of the world should also be a topic. Rights for animals are the prerequisite for their consumption, keeping and killing, and their recognition also has an impact on people's self-image of themselves. These consequences also have an impact on global economic relationships. For example, meat consumption in the western world indirectly results in the starvation of people in poorer countries, i.e. the indirect extermination of our own species through the related waste of food as animal feed. While this emphasizes the importance of the question posed, it cannot be a reason to infer animal rights. I will present various animal ethical positions on the status, value and rights of animals and then use Arthur Schopenhauer's ethics to create the basis for answering the title question. Not only do I consider his remarks, which take all forms of suffering life into account, to be extremely modern, but the aspect of pity also seems extremely interesting to me in relation to the animal ethical discourse. Because in today's society and industry it is already excluded because we ourselves no longer kill animals and have to see them suffer in order to eat them or to use their services in another form. One of the slogan of the animal rights organization Peta is: "If slaughterhouses had walls made of glass, everyone would be a vegetarian."1

1 animal ethics

The field of animal ethics deals with how humans deal with animals, what rights they have and what rights the animals themselves have. As a field of bioethics that encompasses the treatment of the entire environment by humans, it examines the responsibility humans have for non-human forms of life.2 The investigation of the position in the natural world and the inherent value of a living being plays a role.3

1.1 A historical overview

Before an opening of ethics to animals, an independent animal ethics, could emerge, animals were indeed named in philosophy, but they were hardly an integral part of it. Individual forerunners can be found in history, for example Augustine (354-430) differentiated the prohibition of killing in the Bible, saying that it does not apply to numb trees and unreasonable animals because they are not part of our community. Thomas Aquinas (around 1225-1274) also emphasized the lack of common sense in animals. Phytagorean representatives of the esoteric doctrine of the migration of souls, on the other hand, were concerned with the similarity between us.4 Only after the beginning of the modern age can we speak of an approximate opening of ethics to non-human beings. The founder of utilitarianism Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) already emphasizes the ability of animals to suffer as a decisive starting point, which the influential thinker John S. Mill, the son of a student of Bentham, also orientates himself on.5

Suffering and compassion are also important aspects for Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) in his ethics, in which he also deals with animals. Contrary to Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), he asserted direct duties towards animals and spoke of a justice that humans owe to animals.6 Undoubtedly, the beginning of modernity, including industrialization, the French and American revolutions and above all the enlightenment mood, was decisive for the more precise questioning of moral behavior, the use of reason.

Through Darwinism around 1860, based on Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" from 1856, new perspectives on the subject of the relationship between humans and animals were made possible, but at the same time the right of the fittest was emphasized. The zoologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) subordinated the category of the individual to that of the collective and the race, while George J. Romanes (1848-1894) subordinated the "continuity of consciousness and the ability to suffer", also on the basis of the Theory of evolution.7

The British reformer Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) made a significant contribution to the animal rights movement. With "Animals' Rights" from 1892 he wanted to put the principle of animal rights on a solid foundation, which should create a common basis for further reformers. If humans had rights, animals would have them too.8

Albert Schweitzer (1875 - 1965) was also influential, who included animals in the ethical consideration on the basis of reverence above all for life.9

In today's animal ethics debate, the forerunners mentioned are mentioned again and again and discussed anew. Probably the best-known animal ethicist of our time, Peter Singer, quotes Bentham, for example, when it comes to the ability to suffer, the philosopher and animal rights activist Tom Regan and many other Kant, while Bernard E. Rollin and Josephine Donovan in particular refer to Schopenhauer with the ethics of care support.

1.2 The moral status of animals

Recognizing the animals a moral status or not is the basis for all further considerations. From this status, this value or this dignity, which we give them, there arises the consequence for the rights and contact as well as for the keeping, use, killing and eating of animals. I speak of moral instead of ethical status, as I did in the title of the work, because although I take a reflective view of the values ​​and norms of a society, I measure the status of animals on a lifeworld level and, based on ethical considerations, on moral interaction with animals based on their social status, opinions about them and this status. The terms ethics and morals certainly overlap in this discussion, because a moral way of looking at things or acting can also arise from an ethical argument about moral behavior.

What is certain is that the moral status of animals is not a generally accepted matter of course, as they are not treated accordingly and are completely excluded from many ethics. To this end, some ethicists, as already described in the foreword, consider a demarcation between them and people to be necessary, for which the moral philosophy and its consequences for action then only apply. For example, the eminent Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, who marked the beginning of modern philosophy, excludes animals from his 1785 ethics, “Foundations for the Metaphysics of Morals”.10 Kant's moral law is derived from reason and applies only to beings gifted with reason, namely those who can infer it for themselves from their own reason. He goes even further and concludes that animals are accordingly “means” that may be used, whereas humans are their own ends and deserve a dignity that is to be respected by others as a kind of boundary to the self. The laws according to which this reasonable person acts should only be those that he is able to give himself.11 It is true that Kant also speaks of the brutalization of man when he tortures animals, but he should not do it for his own sake and not for the welfare of the animals.12 For Kant, the most relevant demarcation between humans and animals is the talent for reason or the ability to give one's own actions a law, which would also have to comply with a generally applicable maxim.

Other possible reasons to differentiate animals from humans or to equate them are presented in numerous ways in the discussion on animal ethics. There is, for example, Carl Cohen, who does not advocate the arbitrary treatment of animals by humans, but denies them any rights. They could not have any rights if they did not show moral autonomy, did not live independently in a moral community that was just on mutual moral treatment.13 Bernard E. Rollin, however, allows animals to enter the field of moral consideration, assuming that they are interests, according to Aristotle telos, thus have an inherent nature, function that defines their life. This function wants to be lived out. Hobbes and Spinoza spoke of in this regard conatus, an inner drive to maintain one's own integrity and identity.14 According to Rollin, animals have a kind of “meta-right”, a right to be objects of moral consideration. He distinguishes their status from people in that he does not grant them the same rights, but gives people the duty to recognize their worth and treat them accordingly. Living beings with needs or interests are never allowed to just be seen as a means, since they also have something else in them.15 His view is thus similar to Arthur Schopenhauer's, who also ascribes interests to animals, in his case “motives”. The animal protection ethicist Gotthard M. Teutsch argues similarly. He sees the decisive difference between humans and animals in the gift of reason, from which a dignity results. From this, however, he deduces the conclusion that other people should be treated humanely, whether they are sensible or not, which he uses to indicate small children, debilitants or the seriously ill. Reasons for this are pity for the subject of a life as well as the weal and woe of it, regardless of whether it itself knows about it. So does Schopenhauer. On this basis he then establishes the “dignity of the creature”, on the basis of which all living beings would have to be recognized by humans for their own sake.16 The American philosopher Tom Regan also refers to the aspect of dignity, rejecting the usefulness principle of utilitarianism and invoking the inherent value of all life.17 Animals have a value because we use them for ourselves, but also for their own sake. However, he is in favor of ascribing the right to animals not out of compassion to be treated with respect, but out of reason, the reasonable recognition of the worth of each individual.18

On the basis of utilitarianism, Peter Singer justifies the rights of animals with the principle of equal consideration of interests for living beings with different abilities. This means that our consideration for others must not depend on their characteristics and abilities, be they humans or animals. He cites the "father of modern utilitarianism", Jeremy Bentham, who compares a dog with an infant, whereby he ascribes a higher degree of intelligence and communicability to the dog. It is also he who turns the tables and, instead of looking for the differences, looks for the similarities on the basis of which the rights should be determined.19


1 Paul McCartney, Glass Walls / Paul McCartney for PETA, 12/9/12,

2 Compare: Ursula Wolf, "Introduction", in Ursula Wolf (ed.), Texts on animal ethics, Stuttgart 2008, p.9.

3 See: Julian Nida-Rümelin, "Animal ethics I: On the philosophical and ethical foundations of animal welfare", in: Applied ethics. The area ethics and their theoretical foundation. A manual., Stuttgart 2005, p.516.

4 See: Jean-Claude Wolf, Animal ethics. New perspectives for people and animals, Friborg Switzerland 1992, pp. 9, 10.

5 Compare: Ibid., P.63.

6 See Ibid., P.57.

7 Compare: Ibid., Pp. 10-12.

8 See: Andreas Flury, The moral status of animals. Henry Salt, Peter Singer and Tom Regan. Alber series, Practical Philosophy, Munich 1999, page 58.

9 See: Jean-Claude Wolf, Animal ethics. New perspectives for people and animals, Friborg Switzerland 1992, p.57.

10 See: Immanuel Kant, Foundation for the Metaphysics of Morals (AA) Vol. IV, Stuttgart 1984, p.78.

11 Compare: Ibid., Pp. 87 ff.

12 See: Immanuel Kant, Metaphysics of Morals, Part 2: Metaphysical foundations of the doctrine of virtue, Hamburg, p.84.

13 Cf.: Carl Cohen, "Why Animals Have No Rights", in: Ursula Wolf (ed.), Texts on animal ethics, Stuttgart 2008, page 55.

14 See: Bernard E. Rollin, "Moral Theory and Animals", in: Ursula Wolf (ed.), Texts on animal ethics, Stuttgart 2008, pp. 40 ff.

15 Compare: Ibid., Pp. 48 ff.

16 See: Gotthard M. Teutsch, "Die Würde der Kreatur", in: Ursula Wolf (ed.), Texts on animal ethics, Stuttgart 2008, page 57 ff.

17 Cf.: Tom Regan, "How to establish rights for animals", in: Ursula Wolf (ed.), Texts on animal ethics, Stuttgart 2008, page 35 ff.

18 Compare: Ibid., Pp. 38, 39.

19 See: Peter Singer, "Racism and Speciesism", in: Ursula Wolf (ed.), Texts on animal ethics, Stuttgart 2008, pp. 29-31.

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