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Ethical theories and nonhuman animals

Cows fenced in a small space, close together

Ethics is a critical reflection on how we should act and why. Animal ethics is the field of ethics that deals with how and why we should take nonhuman animals into account in our moral decisions. Different ethical theories disagree about how we should act in many situations. For example, according to some views it is always wrong to tell a lie, regardless of the consequences.... Read more

Black pigs in dirt

We all act in certain ways. Our acts and the ultimate reasons behind them are what constitute our morals. We act according to goals we intend to reach, such as increasing happiness (ours and that of others), reducing harm suffered by sentient beings, and benefiting the worst-off. Some people also act according to certain norms, such as keeping promises or telling the truth. In... Read more


Egalitarianism is an ethical theory that defends that a situation is best if the happiness present in that situation is distributed as equally as possible. According to some egalitarians, equality is good because inequality is bad in itself or because it’s unfair. According to others, equality is good, and inequality bad, because we should give priority to the interests of those... Read more

Roe deer walking through deep snow

According to the theory of contractarianism, the moral and political principles we should follow are those we would accept in a hypothetical contract. Contractarians often present a scenario in which no moral or political principles have been accepted yet, and we need to find some of those principles. The contractarian argues that the principles we would accept in the scenario they... Read more


Virtue ethics The virtue ethics approach in moral philosophy defends the view that when deciding how to live, we should consider not what would make the world a better place or what norms we should obey, but rather what kind of moral agents we want to be. Virtue ethics focuses on moral character. It defends the notion that ethics is about the kind of person we are, more than about... Read more

Close up of insect perched on tip of thin grass-like plant

Utilitarianism is an ethical theory that defends that we should act in ways that bring about as much happiness as possible in the world. This theory defends the following three things: (1) What is good for individuals is that the amount of happiness (or satisfaction of desires) is as high as possible. (2) What is best overall is that the total sum of happiness be as high as... Read more

Close-up of fish being dragged with a hook in its mouth underwater

Consequentialists accept that, in order to decide upon a course of action, we must first weigh up the interests of different individuals who would be affected were a particular action to be carried out. Negative consequentialism is the version of consequentialism that focuses on reducing harms. It has this focus because it assumes that there aren’t things of positive intrinsic... Read more

Close-up of calf lying down in the grass

Rights theories maintain that there are things we cannot do against individuals, because they are holders of moral rights. Having a right means having a special protection. It means that an interest that the right defends should not be frustrated. If an interest is defended by a right, it should not be thwarted even if doing so may be good for other reasons.   Types of... Read more

Group of turtles climb out the edge of a pond while some sit on a log

Rights are safeguards of interests that people have. Rights may protect someone’s interest in doing something without interference, in having access to a certain good, in not being harmed by others or in being benefited by others (see the rights approach). Rights theories concern what types of rights belong to or should be given to whom and why. Rights theories can refer to... Read more

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