Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Value of Animal Life

Do you consider the value of a human life to be greater than the value of an animal life?  I was in an online  conversation about this topic not long ago in which the relative values of various kinds of  life were debated.  Though I argued that my personal ethics placed the value of human life way above that of animals, that did not mean that I thought we ought to mistreat animals or that sadistic cruelty ought to be tolerated in our societies. 

I personally feel a responsibility for the animals under our care, to provide for them a life that recognizes suffering and seeks to limit it. Likewise with wild animals, I think we should take steps to prevent human caused extinction. But that does not mean that I would place a greater or even equal value on an animal's life as compared to a human's under normal circumstances.

In a general sense, the value of an animal's life, its right to life, is a human concept not one derived from Nature. What right to life has the zebra being eaten alive by a clan of hyenas? None. Nature is harsh, cruel, and unfeeling, if you must personify it. Concepts of rights come from us, from our desire to be humane, which I applaud. But those human origins of the right to humane treatment represent values that flow one way, from us to them. We have no right to expect similarly compassionate treatment from the rest of the living creatures on Earth.

That we consider such things and make our moral choices based on such things makes us the responsible party. I think it makes us obligated to some extent. But that general obligation in no way implies a moral equivalency to humanity between the value of a human life versus an animal life. Nor should it.

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