The Relationship Between the Ethics of Animals and the Rights of Nature


The branch of environmental ethics investigates ethical relationships with the natural environment. Despite the fact that throughout history multiple numbers of scientists worked on this topic, environmental ethics appeared as a separate philosophical discipline only in the 1970s. Undoubtedly, its emergence was triggered by increasing awareness about effects that such factors as industry, technology, economic expansion, and growth of the population had on the environment. The concept of speciesism is something that many people claim to disapprove of just for the sake of being morally right, but in reality only a few people dare to disagree with this idea. Personally, I argue against speciesism and conduct research on the demands that people have as moral beings on what they are supposed to eat and how they are expected to live in harmony with the other creatures. This essay seeks to discuss the ethics of animals and the rights of nature based on two main themes and to critically evaluate their fundamental link.

Animal Rights vs. Animal Ethics

The terms ‘animal rights’ and ‘animal ethics’ are primarily different because animal ethics is more theoretical and refers to an academic pursuit which tries to understand and explore how humans are supposed to relate to animals. It does not advocate any particular doctrine. It simply explores animal rights and analyses them as a viewpoint that shapes its structure yet does not support it appropriately. Animal rights, however, can be examined academically this doctrine is much more practical in the specific ways that humans should relate to animals.


Speciesism and Animal Ethics

In a hypocritical world where many people claim to know the difference between what is morally right and what is wrong, some people have decided to argue that animals should enjoy the same rights as humans do. Nonetheless, the clear distinction in beliefs is seen when this issue is raised: should animals have the similar rights as people do and even in a time when more and more people are becoming vegetarians. Additionally, not everyone believes that animals have rights at all and not every single human being who does believe in the power of animals may feel convinced that the animals should have the same rights as humans. It essentially means that all creatures have the rights that are essential to their capabilities. The example is just for humans who may want to practice religion as well as for the eagles eager to fly. These rights are not the same, but they are essential to these two species. However, capacity does not transform itself into a right. For instance, just for the fact that humans can commit murder, does not give them the right to do so.

The term ‘speciesism’ was coined in 1970 by a British psychologist named Richard Ryder, but it was popularized later by Peter Singer in his book entitled Animal Liberation. In this research, the scholar defines the term as “an attitude or prejudice of bias for the concern of associates of one's genus and against those of other species”. It clearly indicates the tendency to favor only what is similar to you and this closely resembles such notions as sexism or racism. Singer claims that the wild creatures do not have any explanation for the suffering of people. It means that the pain of other creatures should be regarded as equal to the suffering of people.

Even though anti-speciesism proclaims the equal rights for all animals, sometimes it may be more urgent to satisfy the need of a human being as compared to the need of an animal even if those needs are the same. The existence of human beings is much more precious than the diversity of animals. It is not due to the person’s life yet for the quality of life. In summary, most of the beings that may support anti-speciesism would frequently try to avoid the bad repercussions of speciesism rather than tolerate their own weakness to put anti-speciesism into practice.

The Rights of Nature and the Human Nature

It is quite obvious that humans tend to see themselves as extraordinary creatures that are more beautiful and sophisticated in comparison with the other beings. The idea of human supremacy has been deeply rooted into our nature, so that being “inhuman” is the worst thing that a person may possibly experience. Numerous researches into the values of life have been done so far, but the human nature and the need to satisfy our desires have always prevailed over these rights. Just as negative things such as inflicting damage, death, or suffering occurs among all species, so do the other traits such as the ability to love, have fun, and forgive. 

The basic understanding that humans are a part of nature has resulted in the situation when many people behave selfishly, for example, when hunting just for personal pleasure. Unfortunately, those who practice similar games will always provide a lame excuse for acting in that manner, say, by claiming that hunting is a way to reduce the overpopulation of the animals. However, they do not adopt the same approach when it comes to overpopulated urban centers. As a result, many people stick to the opinion that being an essential part of nature, but not subject to the demands of nature and have a privilege to choose when to obey the rules of nature.

Another scientist Christopher Stone in his book Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Right for Natural Objects explains the aforementioned phenomenon in detail. To assert that the natural environment also has rights does not mean that one can never fell a tree. This statement does not indicate that every creature yearns to have every possible right or even equal rights as humans. Similarly, the rights of other creatures apart from humans may be different but they remain as rights essential to the particular animal. One right does not supersede another one unless the quality of life is in the scope of the question.

Just like humanists, anti-speciesists may also act consistently speaking of comparing the relationship between humans and nature. Since there is no test for species regarding right-holding, there is no a test on becoming affected by the demands of nature respectively. Therefore, not only humans may have rights, although the link between people and nature is quite dubious, even bimodal. The human nature and the way people live show a continued war against the nature. However, at the same time, people desperately search for the world that is gone and try to revive things that they have already lost. In an attempt to reconstitute the nature, however, we arrive at the conclusion that we manipulate animals and other beings to serve for us. A bright example of this issue is introducing new species to the places which they should note naturally inhabit. 

The program that involves taking animals from one region of the world and transporting them to another area generally fails, since in this manner the mortality rates of the animals is increased and their rights to dwell in their natural environment are infringed. Apart from the relocation of these animals, other programs aim at conducting a practice commonly known as rewilding. It implies making the animals that used to be wild (but then became dependent on people) start to be wild again. The practice that is meant behind these words can be perceived as somewhat inhumane, and it also typically involves situations when medical care or proper food is not provided or when adverse natural conditions, say, overpopulation happens. Even though these programs aim at creating more self-sufficient population, they tend to violate the inalienable rights of nature. The very essence of this is that a less domesticated animal may enjoy better welfare benefits, which is not true in reality. 

An animal that has been once rewilded does not necessarily indicate that it enjoys a more effective protection compared to the beast that has been caged. It may be morally acceptable to reintroduce animals to the wild, but such action involves serious moral consequences. The point is that there are some beings that feel obliged to do what is ethically acceptable, but only very few people would act on their own decision, as they typically tend to stay in their comfort zones. For instance, people’s right to alter the way of life and ruminate over the rights of nature outweighs their desire to leave a more improved world for the future generations. The vast majority of people would argue that this is morally and ethically right, but many individuals do not behave as if this is true and topical for them. It is definitely easier to live in a way that threatens the welfare of nature rather than make a sacrifice for the future generations and preserve the beauty and the diversity of natural surroundings. It raises the question of what are the major reasons that drive humans to prefer reintroducing or rewilding animals. This claim has two generally related but somewhat distinct reasons.

It has become our second nature as humans to aspire and to seek comfort. Therefore, the first reason is the desire to return to what the world used to be at a time when things were presumably better. The question remains: to what extent are we supposed to try to reconstitute nature to the state it used to be taking into consideration the fact that obtaining an exact duplicate is virtually impossible. We want wild animals like lions, but we do not want them to threaten or harm our children or us. We want to live in a perfectly safe environment full of birds and insects, but we do not want to refuse luxury items that may harm them and decrease their population. Hence, it can be quite difficult to see the grounds for this due to the notion frequently termed as nostalgia. Yet this is not an excuse to damage nature while trying to revive what has been lost. Other possible grounds include the desire to make the world what we think it should be. It is popular among humans to try and change things in hopes for better times. It is a misguided theory. However, it can be true that the preferences of individuals are more important, particularly when they consider the concerns of aesthetics, call for diversity, or strive for the reminders of the past. Nonetheless, it is crucial to recognize that the power to change nature into what we desire does not necessarily give humans the right to do so. Human satisfaction does not supersede the rights of animals and nature as a whole. The nature of human beings to exploit animals and environment is morally unjust, since it has become necessary to invoke a precautionary principle. When the preferences of people come into conflict with the welfare of animals and calculation of trade-offs is not clear; then the animals should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Humans like to enjoy what nature provides, but do not like to face the consequences of their actions when their demands bring pain to other species. In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, a prominent scholar Michael Polan describes a controversial issue when people get pleasure from eating meat yet object to the act of killing animals. 

Ethics of Animals vs. the Conservation of Nature

These two concepts are quite similar and different at the same time. They both gained public approval in the 1970s, during the period when conservationists began to oppose human-centeredness and anti-speciesism came into effect. Although not all environmentalists oppose speciesism, they fervently believe that wild animals and nature in general possess intrinsic values and that their values are worth being independent from the human values. This attitude is not widely acknowledged by all conservationists, but the overwhelming majority of them believe that the environment should be conserved in any case despite the different motives. Animal activists advocate for the conservation of the animals, while conservationists believe in the concept of achieving a greater protection.


When a person accepts the argument of anti-speciesism and supports animal ethics and the rights of nature, it is virtually impossible to avoid arguments about the way how people are supposed to live in this world and what is regarded as wrong and right. The essay shows how anti-speciesism can be applied to demonstrate that humans are an essential part of nature and thus, nature should be treated with respect. Living according to this concept can be a daunting task at times. In spite of the fact that people are merely weak creatures, they should not be deterred from their duty to respect nature, since everything is open to compromise.

Related essays