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Moral responsibility involves four major things; knowledge, value, capacity, and choice. In other words, it means that a morally responsible person is knowledgeable about what is required and is able to do it. In addition, the person has a choice of whether to do it or not. This has a big impact on any other thing around him. Ethics, on the other hand, is when human beings express love and justice towards something or somebody. Lack of these virtues can therefore result in damage to the natural ecosystem. Environmental ethics and animal rights thus require human moral obligation in acting or refraining from acting for the good of self and natural resources and ecosystem.
Environmental ethics is a phrase used to refer to theories that outline the way to handle natural surroundings. It entails putting into consideration values involving the environment and performing duties to promote the same. Environmental ethics, therefore, calls for human beings to take care of the natural environment (Botzler and Armstrong 517).
According to philosophers, Humans are moral agents and are thus associated with ethics. In other words, they are self-reflective. The question that arises is whether humans are the only valuing agents in the world that are full of values. Although the environment is composed of humans and other millions of species, humans are the only ones with a conscience. This is further debatable because classical ethics argues that with self-conscious nature humans or any other species with almost the same capacity can only do so for self-interests. This can therefore result in the conclusion that humans can exercise environmental ethics not because they care about nature but because they benefit from it.
Philosophy on the other hand argues that the environment–human mutual relationship brings about values at stake. In other words, it goes against ethics. This view puts it that humans should not be bothered with the environment; instead, they should take it that nature is morally extensive in itself.
The philosophy of animal rights argues that animals have the life that humans should respect. The fact that animals are utility to them does not give them the mandate to exploit them in any way. Animals are conscious of the world and everything that goes on around them. Just like humans, they have needs such as biological and social needs. They gain pleasure when these needs are satisfied and pain when they are not. With this in mind, humans should uphold moral principles when dealing with animals. Philosophy of animal rights moreover argues that the same way human rights are promoted and protected, the same should equally be applied to animals (Julian 106).
On the contrary, ethics is not all about people. Wild animals for example are born free. They find a way of surviving including hunting, finding shelter, and protecting their young ones. They have a value for self-identity and defend themselves because they value their lives. In other words, animals are well adapted to their environment. The human moral principles in this case are the fallacy of misplaced values.
Moral principles are basically a matter of considering and respecting others for what they are in themselves. Self-interest should not be the drive for good co-existence between human and nonhuman. Humans should understand that animals are their cousins and their rights should apply to them too. However, exceptions are acceptable. For example when humans are protecting themselves against dangerous animals and hunting for food. This is just but one function of moral agents.
Botzler, R. and Armstrong, S. eds. Environmental Ethics: Divergence and Convergence, 2nd Ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 1998.
Julian, Franklin. Animal Rights and Moral Philosophy. NY: Columbia University Press, 2005.