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To what extent should non-human animals be held accountable for their actions?

**If the thread is too long and you do not want to read the whole thing, please skip to the end and answer the four numbered questions. Thanks.**

The whole animal liberation philosophy revolves around the fact that non-human animals are sentient beings, that their lives and wellbeing are valuable. Given that they are sentient beings, they obviously have free will. They make decisions. It is also obvious from simply observing them that they have personalities, preferences, values, friendships, loyalties. Take cats for example. Some are very friendly and will run up to anyone begging for attention. Some are kind of mean and will hiss and claw at anyone they don't especially like. Surely they realize they are not being very nice, to deny that would be to say that they are just dumb, thoughtless, mindless beasts, as many anti-animal liberation humans would have us believe.

With humans too of course there is a lot of variation in personality. We don't say that a human is not valuable just because they are mean sometimes, and I am certainly not suggesting that an unfriendly cat's life is not valuable. Of course it is valuable. But the point is, non-human animals have personalities, they sometimes act in ways that they know are not particularly nice, that are less-than-ideal, and, to some extent, wrong (however slightly).

Now, what if an animal were to intentionally harm someone? What if some cat who is a complete jerk decides that he doesn't like some human, for no particular reason, and claws that human's eye out? Sure, it's extremely unlikely, humans are usually the only animals to do things like that. But just hypothetically, what does that mean? If a human were to do that they would probably be jailed. Should the cat be punished in any way? If not, it seems to be double standards, but at the same time, non-human animals don't always fully understand the ramifications of their actions to the same extent that humans do.

Now, with humans, if they do something wrong unintentionally they are not held AS accountable, but most people would agree that if a human is harming other humans unintentionally, they should still be held accountable to some extent, especially to the extent that they are prevented from further harming others. For example, if a human gets in car crashes due to unintentional mistakes, isn't even irresponsible, but just is a bad driver, they'll have their driver's license taken away to prevent them from endangering others.

What about non-humans in situations where they harm others, but not out of malice? What about a mother bear who attacks a human defensively, while the human did nothing wrong? What if I, a vegan who means the bears no harm, am walking through the forest and accidentally come across them, then the mother bear attacks me? I would run without harming them if possible of course, they are only acting defensively, but what if to save myself I have to use lethal force against the bear? It isn't punishment, just self defense. The bear is only trying to protect her babies, but I did nothing wrong either, and the bear is the aggressor.

And what about in situations with animals living in human families? What if dogs chew on furniture and ruin it, what if cats don't care enough to use the litter box, what if puppies make a mess of everything? They aren't intentionally doing anything wrong, but after being yelled at they probably realize that their human family doesn't like what they do. What if they keep doing it anyway? Would it then be the right course of action to, say, keep the dog in a kennel when the humans are gone or keep the cats outside (assuming it is a rural home where they are safe outside--no busy streets, etc)? If that is not justified, then what is the right course of action? Just let them destroy the house and give it up to them?

And to finish it up, I would like to hear from as many people as possible on what you personally would do in any of the following situations:

1. You are hiking. A hungry grizzly bear decides you would make a nice meal. Your only way to save yourself is to use lethal force against the bear. What do you do? (running/escaping is not an option)

2. You are hiking. You accidentally come across a black bear with cubs. She attacks you because she thinks that you are a threat to her cubs, however, you did nothing wrong and made no threatening move. Still, your only way to save yourself is to use lethal force against the mother bear, leaving her cubs motherless, and killing her for something that she truly believed was the right thing to do (defend her cubs from you, a potential threat). What do you do? (running/escaping is not an option)

3. You live in a rural home with cats. They consistently don't bother going to the litter box, and you have already tried training them to do so. It is a nice safe rural area, but they still want to spend a lot of their time inside. You have a shed they can go inside if they are not allowed in the house. What do you do?

4. You live in a city with a dog. There is nowhere outside for the dog to be when you are gone. He chews and destroys furniture when left unattended, and you have no way of stopping him without putting him in a kennel. You have a kennel that is big enough for him to stand, turn around, and sit, but too small for him to run or play or do much of anything. What do you do?

Any input is greatly appreciated.

Responses (2)

  • Report Abuse

    Posted by 12345678 at 09/16/14 05:21:30

    1 Shoot
    2 Shoot
    3 Not really sure of the problem here? Sin bin?
    4 same as 3

    Who's to say that a cat, or any other animal, can't make moral decisions? We humans like to suppose what animals can and can't feel, think etc. Perhaps they do have morals, but ignore them.
    Or perhaps they have drawn their moral line in the sand, and it is different to ours?

  • Report Abuse

    Posted by ahimsa32fa at 09/18/14 08:12:04


    Philosophers have been wrestling with such questions for millennia. There are hundreds of books that offer answers to your questions...including several of mine...