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The Moral Value of Animals: Three Versions Based on Altruism

1 June 2004


As it comes to animal ethics, broad versions of contractualism are often used as a reason for excluding animals from the category of those with moral value in the individualistic sense. Ideas of “reciprocity” and “moral agency” are invoked to show that only those capable of understanding and respecting the value of others may have value themselves. Because of this, possible duties toward animals are often made dependent upon altruism: to pay regard to animals is to act in an other-regarding manner instead of mutual benefit. There are three main versions of altruism in animal ethics. The first one of these is the most traditional, and emphasises benevolence as a source of moral regard. The second concentrates on the notion of value, and claims that animals have value in the individualistic sense despite being incapable of moral agency. The third resists overt theory-dependency, often included in the second version, and concentrates more on the elements of “context” and “identification”. Out of these, a combination of the last two is identified as the most fruitful basis for altruistic animal ethics.


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