It is said that animals cannot behave immorally because they are incapable of discerning right from wrong. But why is this relevant? Chimpanzees murder one another on occasion, for example. If murder is inherently wrong, what does it matter that the chimps don't know it? Surely, we wouldn't allow moral ignorance as an excuse when a human commits murder. (Not to mention the fact that chimpanzees probably shun other chimpanzees who've committed murder, so how can we really be sure they don't have any moral sensibilities?) The only way I can think of this being relevant is that morality actually has nothing to do with the actions themselves, but rather has to do with how human beings relate to these actions. If murder were wrong because of features inherent in the act of murder, than chimpanzees who kill others would be just as morally guilty as humans who do so. Murder must be wrong because of features inherent to humans (as we are the only candidates for moral agency we know of), and the way we...

A man points a gun and pulls the trigger. The gun fires, and the bullet strikes another man in the head, killing him instantly. Was it murder? Anyone who thinks they can answer the question based on what's been said so far doesn't understand the word "murder." Did the man who pulled the trigger do something wrong? Anyone who thinks they can answer the question based on what's been said so far doesn't understand what it means for something to be wrong. Whether what happened was a murder, and whether anyone did anything wrong depends on a lot that's been left out, not least a lot about who intended to do what and who knew or believed what. Scenario #1. The man who pulled the trigger is a hit man. The person shot was an otherwise innocent witness to a crime. The person who hired the hit man wants to be sure the witness can't testify. This murder and the man who pulled the trigger (as well as the one who hired him) did something deeply wrong. Scenario #2: The man who pulled the trigger is a police...

Are animals self aware?

I am an animal, and I am at least intermittently self-aware, so yes. But I'm guessing you wanted to know whether non-human animals are self-aware. We could spend some time trying to sort out exactly what counts as self-awareness, and that would be a lengthy though worthwhile exercise. But the short and plausible answer is that some are and some (perhaps most) aren't. One reason to think that some are comes from research with mirrors. Some elephants and some chimps, at least, seem to be able to figure out that what they're seeing in a mirror is their own reflection. You can read a short account of some of the research here .

If humans didn't exist, would animals still have rights?

We might start by pointing out that there's a controversy about just what rights are and also about whether animals have rights, but let's try to finesse those issues. On one common way of understanding rights, for me to have a right is for people or institutions to be obliged to treat me in a certain way. Whether that's the whole story, it's plausibly at least part of it. But cats, dogs and so on aren't obliged to act in any way; creatures who aren't capable of understanding obligations can't have any obligations. If we put these two bits together, we get a plausible answer to your question: if there were no humans, then there wouldn't be anyone who had any obligations. (Of course, if there are non-humans who have the right kinds of minds, the story is different.) If there aren't any creatures who could have obligations, then the animals don't have rights. We can back off this a bit. Let's use the term moral agent for any creature who is of the sort that can have moral obligations. Then...

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