Cows fenced in a small space, close together

Ethical theories and nonhuman animals

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. According to others, whether or not we should lie depends on the situation and what the outcome would be for those affected by the lie.

Despite their many differences, the most widely accepted ethical theories all support a defense of the moral consideration of nonhuman animals and the rejection of speciesism (discrimination against nonhuman animals). The arguments of each theory are different, since each theory has its own framework of reasons for why we should act in some ways and not others. However, the different arguments used in all these theories arrive at the same conclusion: that we should take the interests of all sentient beings into account. This is because they apply universally, and not just to some particular theory.

Learn more about how the moral consideration of nonhuman animals can be defended according to the major ethical theories in the texts below.




Suffering-focused ethics

Negative consequentialism


Virtue ethics and care ethics

Rights theories: The general approach

Rights theories: Different positions

To learn more about different ethical positions in general, see:

Different ethical theories