To understand the concept of ethical treatment of animals, we have to get an idea on ethical behavior as such.
Ethical behavior assumes the care of another person, empathy with another person, action on behalf of that person. This kind of moral setting of an individual, who feels responsibility for another, is called altruistic, as opposed to selfish, when the personal interests are in the first place, or even egocentric, when personal interests exclude the possibility to act in favor of someone else. Willingness to sacrifice own interests in the name of justice or virtue of compassion is always regarded as the most important quality of an ethical personality.
However, pragmatic aspects also played a role in the evolution of ethics in human society; ethical behavior of an individual member of society was in the public interest, the main cause of ethics development in historical terms was spiritual growth of man.
Ethical or moral attitude towards the world is a reflection of the moral and intellectual potentialities of man. Ethics relationship to others depends on a person’s ability to use personal experience and the experience of mankind, the ability to analyze the actions and emotions of others, to walk in the shoes of another. Speculative ability to experience a situation, in which another person is, requires the development of imagination. For the higher gift that mankind has acquired in the course of evolution, is the ability to experience the feelings of another – i.e., empathize with him. This ability requires the development of such personal qualities as mercy, compassion, kindness. With the development of this ability, people learned to not only empathize with another person, but also with any sentient beings that can experience pain and suffering, in other words, the perception of the world in humans was not only ethical but also bioethical.
Ethical and bioethical attitude is a property of the highly psychic and mostly available only to the human being. However, some highly organized animal species are particularly at a long time in contact with the humans are able to empathize; dogs can respond to anxiety, excitement at the sight of tears, or other manifestations of human suffering: they whine, try to reach the master’s face.
Thus, the basis for ethical behavior has an emotional nature. However, many people also need a rational approach that would strengthen their emotional impulses. Such people use as an argument to the principle of equity, in which case they are based on generally accepted moral norms – as justice is a requirement to acts of moral rights.
In the treatment of animals, both principles are usually operated: compassion, mercy, and the principle of equity. The usual train of logical thought is that since animals are able to feel and understand, they may be suffering as humans, they may have similar needs – to eat, have shelter, etc. – as well as people. Therefore, their suffering and needs have to be treated with the utmost seriousness.
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