The animal cruelty movement is wrong

published Dec 20, 2008, last modified Jun 26, 2013

Punishing people for animal cruelty makes no sense and is immoral. Here's why.

You've seen the activists call out animal cruelty is wrong.  Now I'm going to show you how they are mistaken.

Here, we are going to establish a rational, reality-based definition of morality to be able to sift moral and immoral from the universe of actions, and then show you how "animal cruelty is immoral" clearly does not pass rational muster, despite the feelings of many people about the subject.

Wrong, in this context, is a moral judgement.

Morality is the ability to identify actions as right, morally indifferent or wrong.  Morality only applies to actions executed by a moral agent onto another moral agent, not between a moral agent and a nonmoral one.

A moral agent is an agent that has the capability of judging (not just "knowing") right from wrong.

The preconditions to have this ability are all of the following:

  1. the capacity for rationality
  2. the capacity for self-awareness

Test this theory yourself:

  • Can a guy in a coma be a moral agent?  Yes.
  • Can a rock be a moral agent? No.
  • Can a computer be a moral agent? No.
  • Can a gerbil be a moral agent? No.

This definition is congruent with reality; you would not call a computer, a gerbil or a rock "capable of right and wrong", right?

This simple examination of reality excludes (almost all) animals as moral agents from the outset.  In other words, it is pretty evident that, as a class, it is clear that the vast majority of animals simply are not moral agents.

The conclusion is then obvious: animal cruelty is not wrong.  It is not right either.  It is merely morally indifferent, because the "receiving end" of the action is not a moral agent. It is quite horrible to be cruel to an animal, but that does not necessarily make it immoral.

Now, you may be wondering, "but animals experience/exhibit physical and cognitive responses to harm and stress; do you not consider those responses to be relevant?"

And the answer would be no.  Pain or stress alone does not make you a moral agent (just as the lack thereof does not remove your status as a moral agent).  Thought experiment: is a tree or a lamprey (scientifically ascertained to be perfectly capable of feeling stress and reacting accordingly) a moral agent?  No, right?  Now think about a guy with CIPA or a guy in a coma: aren't these at least theoretically capable of wrong and right?  Well, they are!

I will be the first to agree that animal cruelty is wrong from a practical standpoint, but it is an error to call animal cruelty morally wrong.  We can agree that it is sad to see an animal suffer unnecessarily.  Just as long as we remember that sad does not equal wrong.  We can also agree that individuals who torture animals are disturbed individuals; however, it is an error to them immoral, for the reasons espoused above.

It is true that many people feel that animal cruelty is immoral, but the fact that they feel it does not mean that they are right.  For once, human feelings are easily tricked by propaganda -- if you continually hear sentences to the effect that "animals have feelings too", then by sheer repetition you are inveitably going to feel that animal cruelty is morally wrong, even though the feeling does not make rational sense.  For another, it is perfectly possible to feel wrong about an issue that is patently right or simply morally indifferent -- think masturbation, for example.

Now, on a personal note: I strongly suspect that this whole "animal rights movement" (together with the abominable consequence of putting people in prison for harming animals) is just a horrible distortion of facts and morality done by people with (perhaps) good intentions but nothing else to justify them than feel-good arguments that aren't rational at all.