Wild animal suffering is the suffering experienced by nonhuman animals in nature through causes such as disease, injury, starvation, natural disasters, and killings by other animals. Wild animal suffering has historically been discussed in the context of philosophy of religion as an instance of the problem of evil. More recently, a number of academics have considered the suspected scope of the problem from a secular standpoint as a general moral issue, one that humans might be able to take action towards preventing.
There is considerable disagreement around this latter point, as many believe that human intervention in nature would be either unethical, unfeasible, or both.
In his autobiography, Charles Darwin acknowledged that the existence of extensive suffering in nature was fully compatible with the workings of natural selection, yet maintained that pleasure was the main driver of fitness-increasing behavior in organisms. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins challenged Darwin's claim in his book River Out of Eden, wherein he argued that wild animal suffering must be extensive due to the interplay of the following evolutionary mechanisms:
The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.
Building on this, others have argued that the prevalence of r-selected animals in the wild indicates that the average life of a wild animal is likely to be very short and end in a painful death. According to this view, the average life of a wild animal should thus contain more suffering than happiness, since a painful death would outweigh any short-lived moments of happiness in their short lives.
In Bambi or Bessie: Are Wild Animals Happier? Christie Wilcox argues that wild animals do not appear to be happier than domestic animals, based on findings of wild animals having greater levels of cortisol and elevated stress responses relative to domestic animals. Additionally, unlike domestic animals, animals in the wild do not have some of their needs provided for them by human caretakers. Welfare economist Yew-Kwang Ng has written that evolutionary dynamics can lead to animal welfare which is worse than necessary for a given population equilibrium.
The german philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer also insisted on the extent of suffering in nature: "Whoever wants summarily to test the assertion that the pleasure in the world outweighs the pain, or at any rate that the two balance each other, should compare the feelings of an animal that is devouring another with those of that other".
In sober truth, nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another, are nature's every day performances. [...] The phrases which ascribe perfection to the course of nature can only be considered as the exaggerations of poetic or devotional feeling, not intended to stand the test of a sober examination. No one, either religious or irreligious, believes that the hurtful agencies of nature, considered as a whole, promote good purposes, in any other way than by inciting human rational creatures to rise up and struggle against them. [...] Whatsoever, in nature, gives indication of beneficent design proves this beneficence to be armed only with limited power; and the duty of man is to cooperate with the beneficent powers, not by imitating, but by perpetually striving to amend, the course of nature - and bringing that part of it over which we can exercise control more nearly into conformity with a high standard of justice and goodness.
The English writer and naturalist Henry Stephens Salt wrote an entire chapter on the plight of wild animals, 'The Case of Wild Animals', in his 1894 book Animals' Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress. Salt wrote that:
It is of the utmost importance to emphasize the fact that, whatever the legal fiction may have been, or may still be, the rights of animals are not morally dependent on the so-called rights of property; it is not to owned animals merely that we must extend our sympathy and protection. [...] To take advantage of the sufferings of animals, whether wild or tame, for the gratification of sport, or gluttony, or fashion, is quite incompatible with any possible assertion of animals' rights.
Salt argued that humans are justified in killing wild animals in self-defense, but that "[...] we are not justified in unnecessarily killing—still less in torturing—any harmless beings whatsoever." He argues that this applies to insects as well: "We are unable to give life, and therefore ought not to take it away from the meanest insect without sufficient reason.'"
In 1991, the environmental philosopher Arne Naess critiqued what he termed the "cult of nature" of contemporary and historical attitudes of indifference towards suffering in nature. He argued that we should confront the reality of the wilderness and that we should be prepared to disturb natural processes when feasible to relieve suffering.
Holmes Rolston III argues that only unnatural animal suffering is a morally bad thing and that humans do not have a duty to intervene in natural cases. He celebrates carnivores in nature because of the significant ecological role they play. Others have argued that the reason that humans have a duty to protect other humans from predation is because humans are part of the cultural world rather than the natural world and so different rules apply to them in these situations. Others argue that prey animals are fulfilling their natural function, and thus flourishing, when they are preyed upon or otherwise die, since this allows natural selection to work.
That people would also be obliged to intervene in nature has been used as a reductio ad absurdum against the position that animals have rights. This is because, if animals such as prey animals did have rights, people would be obliged to intervene in nature to protect them, but this is claimed to be absurd. An objection to this argument is that people do not see intervening in the natural world to save other people from predation as absurd and so this could be seen to involve treating non-human animals differently in this situation without justification.
Some theorists have reflected on whether we should accept the harms that animals suffer in nature or try to do something to mitigate them. The moral basis for interventions aimed at reducing wild animal suffering can be rights-based or welfare-based. From a rights-based perspective, if animals have a moral right to life or bodily integrity, intervention may be required to prevent such rights from being violated by other animals.
From a welfare-based perspective, a requirement to intervene may arise insofar as it is possible to prevent some of the suffering experienced by wild animals without causing even more suffering. Advocates of intervention in nature argue that nonintervention is inconsistent with either of these approaches. Some proposed courses of action include removing predators from wild areas, refraining from reintroducing predators, providing medical care to sick or injured animals, and rescuing wild animals from natural disasters.
A common objection to intervening in nature is that it would be impractical, either because of the amount of work involved, or because the complexity of ecosystems would make it difficult to know whether or not an intervention would be net beneficial on balance. Aaron Simmons argues that we should not intervene to save animals in nature because doing so would result in unintended consequences such as damaging the ecosystem, interfering with human projects, or resulting more animal deaths overall. Philosopher Peter Singer has argued that intervention in nature would be justified if one could be reasonably confident that this would greatly reduce wild animal suffering and death in the long run. In practice, however, Singer cautions against interfering with ecosystems because he fears that doing so would cause more harm than good.
Other authors dispute Singer's empirical claim about the likely consequences of intervening in the natural world, and argue that some types of intervention can be expected to produce good consequences overall. Economist Tyler Cowen cites examples of animal species whose extinction is not generally regarded as having been on balance bad for the world. Cowen also notes that, insofar as humans are already intervening in nature, the relevant practical question is not whether we should intervene at all, but what particular forms of intervention we should favor. Philosopher Oscar Horta similarly writes that there are already many cases in which we intervene in nature for other reasons, such as for human interest in nature and environmental preservation as something valuable in their own rights. Likewise, moral philosopher Jeff McMahan argues that, since humans "are already causing massive, precipitate changes in the natural world," we should favor those changes that would promote the survival "of herbivorous rather than carnivorous species."
Peter Vallentyne suggests that, while humans should not eliminate predators in nature, they can intervene to help prey in more limited ways. In the same way that we help humans in need when the cost to us is small, we might help some wild animals at least in limited circumstances.
It has been argued that the common environmentalist goal of preserving the natural order is not in line with the goal of looking after the welfare of sentient animals. It has been further argued that they conflict in different cases. Examples include environmentalists supporting hunting invasive species for population control while animal rights advocates oppose it; animal rights advocates arguing for the extinction or reengineering of carnivores or r strategist species while deep ecologists defend their right to be and flourish as they are; animal rights advocates defending the reduction of wildlife areas or arguing against their expansion out of concern that most animal suffering takes place in them while environmentalists want to safeguard and expand the wild.
Animal ethics is a term used in academia to describe human–animal relationships and how animals ought to be treated. The subject matter includes animal rights, animal welfare, animal law, speciesism, animal cognition, wildlife conservation, the moral status of nonhuman animals, the concept of nonhuman personhood, human exceptionalism, the history of animal use, and theories of justice. Animal ethics can be traced back as far as the 6th century BCE to the teachings of Pythagoras who believed that the souls of humans reincarnated into animals. European countries have taken a leading role in animal ethics with the first animal welfare group the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (SPCA) beginning in Great Britain in 1824. America’s first organization, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (ASPCA) began in New York in 1866.Animal welfare
Animal welfare is the well-being of nonhuman animals. The standards of "good" animal welfare vary considerably between different contexts. These standards are under constant review and are debated, created and revised by animal welfare groups, legislators and academics worldwide. Animal welfare science uses various measures, such as longevity, disease, immunosuppression, behavior, physiology, and reproduction, although there is debate about which of these indicators provide the best information.
Respect for animal welfare is often based on the belief that nonhuman animals are sentient and that consideration should be given to their well-being or suffering, especially when they are under the care of humans. These concerns can include how animals are slaughtered for food, how they are used in scientific research, how they are kept (as pets, in zoos, farms, circuses, etc.), and how human activities affect the welfare and survival of wild species.
There are two forms of criticism of the concept of animal welfare, coming from diametrically opposite positions. One view, held by some thinkers in history, holds that humans have no duties of any kind to animals. The other view is based on the animal rights position that animals should not be regarded as property and any use of animals by humans is unacceptable. Accordingly, some animal rights proponents argue that the perception of better animal welfare facilitates continued and increased exploitation of animals. Some authorities therefore treat animal welfare and animal rights as two opposing positions. Others see animal welfare gains as incremental steps towards animal rights.
The predominant view of modern neuroscientists, notwithstanding philosophical problems with the definition of consciousness even in humans, is that consciousness exists in nonhuman animals. However, some still maintain that consciousness is a philosophical question that may never be scientifically resolved.Animal welfare science
Animal welfare science is the scientific study of the welfare of animals as pets, in zoos, laboratories, on farms and in the wild. Although animal welfare has been of great concern for many thousands of years in religion and culture, the investigation of animal welfare using rigorous scientific methods is a relatively recent development. The world's first Professor of Animal Welfare Science, Donald Broom, was appointed by Cambridge University (UK) in 1986.Antinaturalism (politics)
As a political movement in France, antinaturalism is closely linked to the animal welfare movement. Some antinaturalists posit that any reference to natural law, such as the reintroduction of wolf predators into a forest to curb deer overpopulation, is a form of speciesism and encourage veganism in human beings as well as in predator animals as a way of showing equal respect to the lives of prey as to the lives of predators.Clare Palmer
Clare Palmer (born 1967) is a British philosopher, theologian and scholar of environmental and religious studies who is currently a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Texas A&M University. She has previously held academic appointments at the University of Greenwich, the University of Stirling, Lancaster University and Washington University in St. Louis, among others. Palmer is known for her work in environmental and animal ethics.
She has published three sole-authored books—Environmental Ethics (ABC-CLIO, 1997), Environmental Ethics and Process Thinking (Oxford University Press, 1998) and Animal Ethics in Context (Columbia University Press, 2010)—as well as the co-authored Companion Animal Ethics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015) and seven sole- or co-edited collections and anthologies. She is a former editor of the religious studies journal Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion, and a former president of the International Society for Environmental Ethics.
In Environmental Ethics and Process Thinking, which was based on her doctoral research, Palmer explores the possibility of a process philosophy-inspired account of environmental ethics, focussing on the work of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. She ultimately concludes that a process ethic is not a desirable approach to environmental questions, despite the fact that process thought has been co-opted by some environmentalist thinkers. In Animal Ethics in Context, Palmer asks about responsibilities to aid animals, in contrast to the typical focus in animal ethics on not harming animals. She defends a contextual, relational ethic according to which humans will typically have duties to assist only domestic, and not wild, animals in need. However, humans will often be permitted to assist wild animals, and may be obligated to do so if there is a particular (causal) relationship between humans and the animals' plight.Directed panspermia
Directed panspermia is the deliberate transport of microorganisms in space to be used as introduced species on lifeless but habitable astronomical objects.
Historically, Shklovskii and Sagan (1966) and Crick and Orgel (1973) hypothesized that life on the Earth may have been seeded deliberately by other civilizations. Conversely, Mautner and Matloff (1979) and Mautner (1995, 1997) proposed that humanity should seed other planetary systems, protoplanetary discs or star-forming clouds with microorganisms, to secure and expand our organic gene/protein lifeform. To avoid interference with local life, the targets may be young planetary systems where local life is unlikely. Directed panspermia can be motivated by biotic ethics that value the basic patterns of organic gene/protein life with its unique complexity and unity, and its drive for self-propagation.
Directed panspermia is becoming possible due to developments in solar sails, precise astrometry, the discovery of extrasolar planets, extremophiles and microbial genetic engineering. Cosmological projections suggest that life in space can then have a future.Effective altruism
Effective altruism is a philosophy and social movement that uses evidence and reasoning to determine the most effective ways to benefit others. Effective altruism encourages individuals to consider all causes and actions and to act in the way that brings about the greatest positive impact, based upon their values. It is the broad, evidence-based approach that distinguishes effective altruism from traditional altruism or charity.While a substantial proportion of effective altruists have focused on the nonprofit sector, the philosophy of effective altruism applies more broadly to prioritizing the scientific projects, companies, and policy initiatives which can be estimated to save lives, help people, or otherwise have the biggest benefit. People associated with the movement include philosopher Peter Singer, Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, Cari Tuna, Oxford-based researchers William MacAskill and Toby Ord, professional poker player Liv Boeree, and writer Jacy Reese.Helen Worth
Helen Worth (born Cathryn Helen Wigglesworth; 7 January 1951) is an English actress who is best known for playing Gail Platt in the ITV soap opera Coronation Street since 1974. For her 40 years on the show, she received the Outstanding Achievement Award at the 2014 British Soap Awards.Index of ethics articles
This Index of ethics articles puts articles relevant to well-known ethical (right and wrong, good and bad) debates and decisions in one place - including practical problems long known in philosophy, and the more abstract subjects in law, politics, and some professions and sciences. It lists also those core concepts essential to understanding ethics as applied in various religions, some movements derived from religions, and religions discussed as if they were a theory of ethics making no special claim to divine status.Jacy Reese
Jacy Reese is a writer, social scientist, and co-founder of Sentience Institute. He previously worked as a Senior Fellow at Sentience Politics, and before that at Animal Charity Evaluators as chair of the board of directors and then as a full-time researcher.His research focuses on effective altruism, anti-speciesism, and plant-based and cellular agriculture. Reese was recognized as one of Vice’s “Humans of the Year” in December 2017 along with his co-founder and fiancée Kelly Witwicki. His latest book, The End of Animal Farming, argues that animal farming will end by 2100.Jeff McMahan (philosopher)
Jefferson Allen McMahan (; born 30 August 1954) is an American philosopher.Pain in animals
In humans, pain is a distressing feeling often caused by intense or damaging stimuli. Whether animals apart from humans also experience pain is often contentious despite being scientifically verifiable. The standard measure of pain in humans is how a person reports that pain, (for example, on a pain scale). "Pain" is defined by the International Association for the Study of Pain as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage, or described in terms of such damage." Only the person experiencing the pain can know the pain's quality and intensity, and the degree of suffering. However, for non-human animals, it is harder, if even possible, to know whether an emotional experience has occurred. Therefore, this concept is often excluded in definitions of pain in animals, such as that provided by Zimmerman: "an aversive sensory experience caused by actual or potential injury that elicits protective motor and vegetative reactions, results in learned avoidance and may modify species-specific behaviour, including social behaviour." Non-human animals cannot report their feelings to language-using humans in the same manner as human communication, but observation of their behaviour provides a reasonable indication as to the extent of their pain. Just as with doctors and medics who sometimes share no common language with their patients, the indicators of pain can still be understood.
According to the U.S. National Research Council Committee on Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals, pain is experienced by many animal species, including mammals and possibly all vertebrates.Puppy mill
A puppy mill, sometimes known as a puppy farm, is a type of commercial dog breeding facility. Although no standardized legal definition for "puppy mill" exists, a definition was established in Avenson v. Zegart in 1984 as "a dog breeding operation in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits". The ASPCA uses a similar definition: "a large-scale commercial dog breeding operation where profit is given priority over the well-being of the dogs." According to the Humane Society of the United States, there are an estimated 10,000 licensed and unlicensed puppy mills in the United States, in total selling more than 2,000,000 puppies annually. Commercial kennels may be licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture and state and local jurisdictions which may inspect the kennels routinely.The term "mill" is also applied to operations involving other animals commercially bred for profit, including cats. For-profit breeding on a smaller scale may be referred to as backyard breeding, although this term has negative connotations and may also refer to unplanned or non-commercial breeding.Reality Check (podcast)
The Reality Check is a weekly podcast hosted by members of The Ottawa Skeptics. The show is hosted by Darren McKee, Adam Gardner, Cristina Roach and Pat Roach. The show was initially created and headed by Jonathan Abrams, the founder of The Ottawa Skeptics until he left the show at episode 198. Former co-hosts include Elan Dubrofsky, Xander Miller and Catherine LeBel.The show explores "Scientific controversies and curiosities" and the topics of discussion are varied and include the Moon landing hoax, Big Foot, Feng Shui and the treatment of hiccups. In keeping with the satirical nature of the show, the opening theme music is often a parody of a well-known melody and performed by the co-host Pat Roach and his wife, Cristina. By November 2012, the podcast was receiving between 4000 and 5000 weekly downloads and has reached the 1 million total download milestone.TRC won the 2018 "Mixcloud Radio Online Award" ("MORA") in the "Best Online Talk Show" of "Science/Technology" category.Sentience Politics
Sentience Politics is an anti-speciesist political think tank with the goal of reducing the suffering of all sentient beings. Founded in 2013, their activities include political campaigns—such as ongoing ballot initiatives for sustainable food and fundamental rights for primates—and research on how to most effectively reduce the suffering of human and non-human sentient beings.Sentience Politics is a project of the Effective Altruism Foundation, whose other projects include Raising for Effective Giving and the Foundational Research Institute.Sentience Politics is now an independent Swiss association.Speciesism
Speciesism () is a form of discrimination based on species membership. It involves treating members of one species as morally more important than members of other species even when their interests are equivalent. More precisely, speciesism is the failure to consider interests of equal strength to an equal extent because of the species of which the individuals are a member.The term is often used by animal rights advocates, who argue that speciesism is a prejudice similar to racism or sexism, in that the treatment of individuals is predicated on group membership and morally irrelevant physical differences. Their claim is that species membership has no moral significance. It is thought that speciesism plays a role in inspiring or justifying cruelty to trillions of animals per year, in the forms of factory farming, the use of animals for entertainment such as in bullfighting and rodeos, the taking of animals' fur and skin, experimentation on animals, and more.An example of a speciesist belief would be the following: Suppose that both a dog and a cow need their tails removed for medical reasons. Suppose someone believes that the dog and the cow have equivalent interests, but insists that the dog receive pain relief for the operation, but is fine with the cow’s tail being docked without pain relief, remarking, “it’s just a cow.” This belief is speciesist because the cow’s species is being used as an excuse for not taking her interest in not suffering intense pain into account.
It is possible to give more consideration to members of one species than to members of another species without being speciesist. For example, consider the belief that a typical human has an interest in voting but that a typical gorilla does not. This belief can involve starting with a premise that a certain feature of a being—such as being able to understand and participate in a political system in which one has a political representative—is relevant no matter the being's species. For someone holding this belief, a test for whether the belief is speciesist would be whether they would believe a gorilla who could understand and participate in a political system in which she had a political representative would have an interest in voting.
There are a few common speciesist paradigms.
Simply considering humans superior to other animals. This is often called human supremacism—the exclusion of all nonhuman animals from the rights, freedoms, and protections afforded to humans.
Considering certain nonhuman animals to be superior to others because of an arbitrary similarity, familiarity, or usefulness to humans. For example, what could be called "human-chimpanzee speciesism" would involve human beings favoring rights for chimpanzees over rights for (say) dolphins, because of happenstance similarities chimpanzees have to humans that dolphins do not. Similarly, the common practice of humans treating dogs much better than cattle may have to do with the fact that many humans live in closer proximity to dogs and/or find the cattle easier to use for their own gain.
Simply considering some species superior to others. For example, treating pigs as though their well-being is unimportant, but treating horses as though their well-being is very important, even with the belief that their mental capacities are similar.Suffering
Suffering, or pain in a broad sense, may be an experience of unpleasantness and aversion associated with the perception of harm or threat of harm in an individual. Suffering is the basic element that makes up the negative valence of affective phenomena. The opposite of suffering is pleasure or happiness.
Suffering is often categorized as physical or mental. It may come in all degrees of intensity, from mild to intolerable. Factors of duration and frequency of occurrence usually compound that of intensity. Attitudes toward suffering may vary widely, in the sufferer or other people, according to how much it is regarded as avoidable or unavoidable, useful or useless, deserved or undeserved.
Suffering occurs in the lives of sentient beings in numerous manners, often dramatically. As a result, many fields of human activity are concerned with some aspects of suffering. These aspects may include the nature of suffering, its processes, its origin and causes, its meaning and significance, its related personal, social, and cultural behaviors, its remedies, management, and uses.Veganism
Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals. A follower of the diet or the philosophy is known as a vegan ( VEE-gən). Distinctions may be made between several categories of veganism. Dietary vegans (or strict vegetarians) refrain from consuming animal products, not only meat but also eggs, dairy products and other animal-derived substances. The term ethical vegan is often applied to those who not only follow a vegan diet but extend the philosophy into other areas of their lives, and oppose the use of animals for any purpose. Another term is environmental veganism, which refers to the avoidance of animal products on the premise that the industrial farming of animals is environmentally damaging and unsustainable.Some reviews have shown that some people who eat vegan diets have less chronic disease, including heart disease, than people who do not follow a restrictive diet. They are regarded as appropriate for all stages of life including during infancy and pregnancy by the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the British Dietetic Association. The German Society for Nutrition does not recommend vegan diets for children or adolescents, or during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Vegan diets tend to be higher in dietary fiber, magnesium, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, and phytochemicals; and lower in dietary energy, saturated fat, cholesterol, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12. Unbalanced vegan diets may lead to nutritional deficiencies that nullify any beneficial effects and may cause serious health issues. Some of these deficiencies can only be prevented through the choice of fortified foods or the regular intake of dietary supplements. Vitamin B12 supplementation is especially important because its deficiency causes blood disorders and potentially irreversible neurological damage.Donald Watson coined the term vegan in 1944 when he co-founded the Vegan Society in England. At first he used it to mean "non-dairy vegetarian", but from 1951 the Society defined it as "the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals". Interest in veganism increased in the 2010s, especially in the latter half. More vegan stores opened and vegan options became increasingly available in supermarkets and restaurants in many countries.Wildlife disease
Wildlife, domestic animals and humans share a large and increasing number of infectious diseases, known as zoonoses. The continued globalization of society, human population growth, and associated landscape changes further enhances the interface between wildlife, domestic animals, and humans, thereby facilitating additional infectious disease emergence. The wildlife component of this triad has received inadequate focus in the past to effectively protect human health as evidenced by such contemporary diseases as SARS, Lyme disease, West Nile Fever, and a host of other emerging diseases. Further, habitat loss and other factors associated with human-induced landscape changes have reduced past ability for many wildlife populations to overcome losses due to various causes. This disease emergence and resurgence has reached unprecedented importance for the sustainability of desired population levels for many wildlife populations and for the long-term survival of some species.
The Wildlife Data Integration Network at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin–Madison, is a public information clearinghouse for wildlife disease materials, such as news, fact-sheets, images, and articles. The Wildlife Health Event Reporter is a Citizen Science project to facilitate recognition and public awareness of wildlife diseases.