"Is there an important moral difference between human beings and (other) animals?"

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“Is there an important moral difference between human beings and (other) animals?”

‘Morality’ is a highly subjective issue.  What may seem as ‘morally wrong’ to one person, may seem acceptable to another.  An example of this may be whether or not it is ‘morally wrong’ to eat meat, and there is no right or wrong answer to this question.  Through out this essay I shall try to discuss the ‘moral difference’ between human beings and other animals; however, it is difficult to define ‘moral differences’ because views on morality change from one person to the next.  For example, certain religious beliefs claim that the cow is sacred and therefore it is ‘morally wrong’ to eat it, however, this opinion may be highly criticised by others with contrasting views.  

The ways in which we treat humans are extremely different to the ways in which we treat other animals.  For example, we eat other animals, we wear certain animal fur, we put animals down when we feel it is necessary, we test and experiment on animals for scientific use, and the list goes on.  However, it could be argued that these are not deliberate moral differences, but a result of what is considered socially acceptable in Western contemporary society.  The thought of eating human flesh is regarded as ‘disgusting’, as is the thought of feeling sexually attracted to an animal.  However, this may not be a moral concern, defined by reason, but a reflection of social norms and values.  Certain behaviour is socially accepted with in society because it is known as the norm, and the thought of eating another human clashes with this norm, and therefore is rejected, but not necessarily because it is morally wrong.  For example, other cultures with contrasting norms and values, such as certain native tribes, choose to include cannibalism within their lifestyle and do not view it to be ‘morally wrong’, because it is socially accepted.

To treat a human being in the same way as one would an animal, would not be socially accepted.  For example, in 1996 an article was published in the Evening Standard telling the story of a “two-year-old boy who can only bark and whimper after being kept in a kennel with his parents’ dog for most of his life”.  This is undoubtedly viewed to be ‘morally wrong’, however a large percentage of the country treats their pets in this way without giving it a second thought.  This point alone suggests a very important moral difference between the way we treat human beings compared to the way we treat other animals, emphasising the different moral standards we place on both.

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Kant may argue that this moral difference is necessary and correctly placed.  Kant believes that only rational and autonomous agents should be bearers of ‘moral worth’.  In his view, animals are not self governing, self-conscious creatures.  They are not ‘ends in themselves’, but are there only as a ‘means to an end’, to benefit human beings.  Therefore, other animals, which do not have the ability to reason and be aware of their own consciousness, have no moral claim upon human beings.  According to Kant, morality is based upon rationality and the ability to reason; therefore an irrational creature is ...

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