Discover & Innovate: Environmental ethics question whether animals are emotional

Discover & Innovate: Environmental ethics question whether animals are emotional

Do any species of animals other than humans have feelings and emotions? If they do, how should we treat them?

A hit-and-run in June 2013 killed eight cows on Lantau Island. The incident was widely reported in the media. News footage showed the dead cows and some seriously wounded ones crying while the rest of the herd stood by them.

It was reported that the next day the herd returned to the site and some of the cows were seen to be licking the ground.

According to Chinese culture, cows, along with horses, sheep, chickens, dogs and pigs, are traditionally considered more "spiritual" than other animals. Some people think that the cows weren't just mourning the loss of members of their herd; they were also trying to comfort the wounded cows.

However, some vets have suggested that cows are not very intelligent, and that the tears are simply an instinctive response to pain, not a phenomenon caused by emotions.

Whether animals have emotions or not is something that needs to be investigated scientifically. There is no conclusive answer so far. But a lot of people who have spent a lot of time with animals tend to believe that animals have emotions.

In animal ethics, anthropocentrism is the view that humans are the most important species on Earth while other non-human animals have no central value besides serving human needs. According to this perspective, the traffic accident that left eight cows dead could only be termed as "unfortunate".

People who advocate animal rights believe that all animals are equal and anthropocentrism is unfair. Other animals have feelings and emotions like humans, they say, and since they are sentient creatures, they have certain interests; for example, not being subjected to pain and suffering. These animal interests are on a par with human interests. Therefore, the culprit who rammed and killed eight cows should face criminal charges as well as moral blame.

Animal rights activists believe that non-human animals have moral rights, too, so they should not be treated unfairly. Animal testing, commercial livestock rearing and hunting are all morally wrong and should be prohibited, they say.

Do you believe that non-human animals have feelings and emotions? Do you believe that all animals are equal? Is there a difference between hurting a cow and hurting a human? Should we become vegetarians because of animal rights?

Environmental ethics does not just discuss the moral status of humans and animals. It also examines whether environmental policies are based on sound moral principles. For instance, the "polluters pay" principle may lead to unethical results as it makes pollution a permissible act. This means that if you can pay for it, pollution is not a problem.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Environmental ethics


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