Animal Studies Bibliography

Gordon M. Burghardt and Harold A. Herzog Jr. 1989. Animals, Evolution, and Ethics. In R.J. Hoage (ed.), Perceptions of Animals in American Culture, 129-151. Washington DC. Smithsonian Institution.

The ethical treatment of animals has been of great concern to animal rights groups since the idea of animal rights first began. “Animal ethics” is an ambiguous term which can mean human ethical stances toward animals or ethical factors that might influence the behavior of animals toward each other. Burgardt and Herzog contend that ethical attitudes towards animals is inconsistent. These inconsistencies are often overt and blatant. For instance, when animals become destructive to their surrounding environment, such as a farmer's crops, and need to be “controlled”, certain species elicit human outrage while others go unnoticed. This demonstrates that neither the animal-preservation community nor the conservationists have an ethical stance comprehensive enough to address all the difficult choices that confront us. Farmers, veterinarians, scientists, and government wildlife services have all begun serious discussion of principles for animal treatment. Burghardt and Herzog developed a table listing some the considerations involved in any ethical decision concerning the treatment of animals. However, not all people will respond the same way when making an ethical decision concerning the treatment of animals.

One factor that influences the ethical stances people take toward animals is their position in the creation/evolution argument. Burgardt administered a simple survey which showed one's acceptance of evolution has a pervasive effect upon attitudes that will effect ethical decisions. The acceptance of the theory of evolution also affects how people view the origin of values. These values are affected by deep-seated, emotional, yet more subtle values (i.e.: a belief in the conservation ethic) and can influence our behavior and attitudes in hidden ways. The authors suggest that evolutionary biology may guide our values and belief systems and by looking at our evolutionary heritage, we may eventually be able to understand our ethically related views concerning animals.

Burgardt and Herzog discuss several animal topics that elicit strong feelings in humans. Most of these feelings have an evolutionary heritage. One of them, the fear of snakes, is believed to be unlearned. Perhaps because snakes have easy access to mans old habitat-trees-and some species can be deadly. Animals that are most attractive to humans tend to have similar humanoid features. Similarly, the appeal of juvenile animals lies in their similarity with human babies, both in behavior and in form. Humans feel a need to protect and safeguard helpless children and animals that resemble them elicit the same feeling of parental responsibility. Humans also prefer animals that are larger in size. Burgardt and Herzog believe this is because smaller animals tend to be more common and have a less useful purpose to humans. There is evidence to suggest that early man favored animals which lived longer and reproduced slower. Even early man recognized the advantages of conserving resources. Another emotional response that dates back to our ancestral history is the favoring of rare species. Such animals often played an important part in rituals, costumes, medicine, and elevated social status. Intelligence is also favored in animals, as it is in humans. Favoring animals with valued behaviors and habits is another anthropomorphic projection of human values onto animals. For example, wolves are valued for their loyalty to their pack. Humans are also biased toward species with which we can at least have the illusion of communication. We are also sympathetic toward suffering animals that respond as we might to similar circumstances. Many humans feel apathy toward species such as wolves for which they have had to compete with for food in their evolutionary history. Burghardt and Herzog conclude that biological predispositions, which derive from genetically evolved responses to humans or from the survival value that certain attitudes towards animals had for humans, can influence attitudes. Knowing this, and seeing the problems from different perspectives and angles, will allow us to begin to understand what it takes to change attitudes and begin developing a system for the ethical treatment of animals




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