All About Animals: The Issues (Ages 16-18): The Philosopher’s View

Over thousands of years, philosophers have pondered huge issues of existence, reality and the meaning of life. Many have developed ideas about the role of humans and animals in our world and as many different views and theories have emerged. Below is a selection:

Pythagoras (6th century BC) said: “As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower living beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love.”

Aristotle (384-322 BC) said that animals are devoid of reason and were put on this planet for the sake of humans – for food, clothing and tools.

Plutarch (c A.D.46-c 120) said: “I, for my part, wonder what sort of feeling, mind or reason, that man was possessed who was first to pollute his mouth with gore and to allow his lips to touch the flesh of a murdered being; who spread his table with the mangled forms of dead bodies, and claimed as daily food and dainty dishes what but now were beings endowed with movement, with perception and with a voice.”

Descartes (1596-1650) said that animals have no feelings at all and are merely mechanical beings like clocks. He urged humans to become “masters and possessors of nature”. By seeing animals in this way, he believed science could progress by using animals without having to think of other matters.

Locke (1632-1704) said: “Children should from the beginning be brought up in abhorrence of killing or tormenting living beings And indeed I think that all people from their cradles should be tender to all sensible creatures.”

Rousseau (1712-1778) said: “The animals you eat are not those who devour others; you do not eat the carnivorous beasts, you take them as your pattern. You only hunger for the sweet and gentle creatures which harm no one, which follow you, serve you, and are devoured by you as the reward for their service.”

Kant (1724-1804) said: “humans have an inherent dignity that makes them ends in themselves, whereas animals are mere means to our ends.” But he also said: “If [man] is not to stifle his human feelings, he must practise kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.”

Paine (1737-1809) said: “Everything of persecution and revenge between man and man, and everything of cruelty to animals, is a violation of moral duty.”

Bentham (1748-1832) said: “The day may come when the rest of animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withheld from them but by the hand of tyranny… The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But can they suffer?

Singer (1946 -) said: “The racist violates the principle of equality by giving greater weight to the interests of members of his own race… The sexist violates the principle of equality by favouring the interests of his own sex. Similarly the speciesist allows the interests of his own species to override the greater interests of members of other species. The pattern is identical in each case.”