We use and employ animals in almost all spheres of our daily lives. They provide us with food, clothes and comfort every day. We do not only eat their flesh, but we consume the mother´s milk specifically designed for their young, we wear their skins and pelts and sometimes even pride ourselves on displaying parts of their bodies as trophies or souvenirs. We call them livestock as if they were a mere resource for us to utilise as we please. In the contemporary debate about the treatment of domestic and farmed animals there is a disaccord between the generally accepted recognition of non-human animals as sentient beings and the fact that we stick to intensive livestock farming, including all its negative effects on their health, mind and integrity. If anything, we talk about increasing husbandry facilities – adding a centimetre of living space here, removing a hazard there…. But we never question the practice of farming animals in itself – whether we need to and whether or not we should use animals for our own ends.

This is what animal ethicists call “cage ethics”[1]. We negotiate about size and shape of the cage, but we don´t question the cage itself. Instead we talk about breeding blind hens and cut they beaks, so they don´t peck on each other, we cauterise the horns of cattle, so they don´t fight each other and limit the abilities of almost all farm animals to exert generic behaviour, so they don´t hurt themselves or get dirty. An ethics like this completely disregards the key question of the legitimacy of our exploitation of non-human animals. This basic question, however, is crucial to disclose new opportunities for action and behaviour to us as responsible consumers.

The underlying constitutive thought for the prevailing concept of antagonistic human-animal-relations is anthropocentrism. This episteme has been dominating the humanities for centuries allowing a long time and many a philosopher to firmly establish and consolidate a human-animal dichotomy that has been serving as the authoritative source for legitimacy of the exploitation of non-human animals through man up to this day[2]. It basically means that we look at the world only from the perspective of our kind interpreting it in terms of human experiences and values. We do this not only with regard to the notion of man as the most significant species on the planet, but also we consider the human species to be of a higher moral status than all other beings. Consequently, we measure the value of the life of other organisms in regard to what (as we think) is necessary for a satisfied human life.

However, this is questionable, as unarguably quite different attributes may be required to live a fulfilled life for an ape, tiger, kangaroo, crocodile or honey bee… Famously, the utilitarian Peter Singer describes this as the argument of speciecism, i.e. the privileged treatment of beings belonging to our own species[3]. Singer emphasises the analogy between speciesist arguments and arguments on racism or sexism which seem to follow the same underlying mechanism of constructing something “other” as morally inferior to their own measurements. Therefore some contemporary philosophers call for a differentiated approach, evaluating the abilities of one individual according to whether they are able to live a fulfilled life in terms of their own species, rather than comparing them to a fulfilled human life. Representatives of this “abilities approach” are e.g. Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum [4] or Clare Palmer [5].

In closing, as speciesist arguments follow quite the same structure as other discriminatory discourses, I would like to draw a reference to Donna Haraway emphasising how the body is used to reinforce differences between races, sexes and classes in scientific discourse:

„The marked bodies of race, class, and sex have been at the center […] of knowledge in modern conditions. These bodies are made to speak because a great deal depends on their active management. The biological body is historically specific; the biological organism is a particular cultural form of appropriation-conversation, not the unmediated natural truth of the body. Functionalism emerged as the ruling logic of the discourses of bio-politics.“[6]

[1] Cf. Kymlicka/Donaldson 2011.
[2] Cf. Schmitz 2014: 43.
[3] Cf. Bossert 2015: 20.
[4] See Bossert 2015: 50ff.
[5] See Bossert 2015: 73ff.
[6] Haraway 1989: 289.

Bossert, Leonie (2015): Wildtierethik. Verpflichtungen gegenüber wildlebenden Tieren. Nomos: Baden-Baden.

Haraway, Donna (1990): Primate Visions. Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. Routledge.

Kymlicka, Will and Donaldson, Sue (2011): Zoopolis. A Political Theory of Animal Rights. Oxford University Press.

Schmitz, Friederike, Ed. (2014): Tierethik – Eine Einführung. In: Schmitz, Friederike (Ed.): Tierethik. Grundlagentexte. Suhrkamp: Berlin.